Ford Says 68% of U.S. Drivers Have Poor View of Its Mileage

Ford Motor Co. said 68 percent of U.S. consumers don’t believe the automaker’s cars and trucks are fuel efficient.

“There are 240 million people driving vehicles in America and only 32 percent have a good opinion of Ford on fuel economy,” Jim Farley, the company’s global marketing chief, said today at the Barclays Capital 2011 Global Automotive Conference in New York. “That means 68 percent don’t.”

Improving Ford’s fuel economy image will enable it to raise prices, Farley said. Consumers who view automakers as having good fuel economy also believe they have good quality and safety attributes, he said.

“Fuel economy is ground zero in pricing power in the U.S. for Ford,” Farley said. “If you can change perceptions on fuel economy, you can change pricing power across your whole lineup.”

Car buyers are changing their view of Ford as the company introduces technologies such as “EcoBoost” engines that use direct-fuel injection and turbochargers to improve mileage by as much as 20 percent, Farley said.

“But we have a long way to go,” Farley said. “Those that own fuel economy in the U.S. own pricing.”

Ford’s Comeback

The second-largest U.S. automaker earned $6.6 billion in the first nine months of the year, as fuel-efficient models like the Fiesta subcompact and Explorer sport-utility vehicle attracted buyers. Ford’s U.S. sales are up 11 percent this year through October, ahead of the market’s overall gain of 10 percent.

Ford fell 1.1 percent to $11.02 at the close in New York. The shares have fallen 34 percent this year after gaining 68 percent in 2010.

Ford earned $9.28 billion the past two calendar years following $30.1 billion in losses from 2006 through 2008. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker borrowed $23.4 billion in late 2006, putting up all major assets, including its blue oval logo, as collateral. That helped Ford avoid the bankruptcies and bailouts that befell the predecessors of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

Ford’s Lincoln luxury line can be revived like Burberry clothing or the Gucci brand, Farley said. Ford is redesigning Lincoln so that each model has a unique body style that is different from the Ford vehicle upon which they are based. Lincoln’s U.S. sales fell 11 percent in October from a year earlier and are off 63 percent to 85,828 vehicles last year since peaking in 1990 at 231,660.

“Lincoln wasn’t an abused brand, it was a neglected brand,” Farley said. “We have to get people to wake up and even notice the brand.”

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