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Ford targets small-car seekers

Alisa Priddle Detroit Free Press

Millions of empty-nesters and millennials are in the market for smaller cars and crossovers, and Ford Motor Co. wants to capture their attention with a new advertising campaign.

The campaign plays on the theme of “and, not or” and paints unattractive pictures of forcing choice such as rock “or” roll, bed “or” breakfast, as opposed to both. The message: Ford’s combination of performance and fuel economy is the better way to go.

The ads are targeted at vehicles mid-sized or smaller, from the Ford brand that includes the Fusion, Focus and Fiesta cars and the Escape and C-Max crossovers.

When customers shop, they usually start in the middle of the market,” said Amy Marentic, group marketing manager for global small and medium cars.

Ford has dubbed this pool of vehicles the “super segment,” accounting for half of new vehicle sales nationwide, compared with 35 percent in 2004, said Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst. The numbers are growing: almost 7.4 million vehicles last year, up from about 6.2 million in 2011. And he sees no signs of it letting up.

Millennials, who range in age from late teens to early 30s, start with entry-level vehicles, and their purchasing power will only increase as they age. And baby boomers are downsizing and will continue to become empty-nesters in the next five to 10 years, Merkle said.

Millennials represent 85 to 90 million buyers alone. Combine that with the baby boomers, and the pool is 160 million consumers. By comparison, Generation X is only about 27 million strong.

Boomers don’t need big family vehicles anymore, and millennials don’t need them yet. Large SUV sales have dropped dramatically while small crossovers are hot.

Small cars – mid-size or smaller – accounted for 13 percent of the U.S. market in 2004 but represent 21 percent today, Merkle said.

Marentic admits it is a mental shift for dealers who historically relied on trucks. She likened it to McDonald’s building its business on the success of the Big Mac but finding growth today in the under-400-calorie menu.

“The super segment is our under-400 calorie menu,” she said.

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