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An Auto Industry Insider’s View…From A Woman’s Perspective

Archive for February, 2012

2012 Chicago Auto Show: Spotlight on FORD, Part 2….a resurgence of noteworthy & edgy designs

Posted by carsdiva on February 20, 2012

2013 Ford Escape

With over 2 million vehicles sold since it’s introduction in 2001, the Ford Escape is America’s best-selling SUV, so I was quite enthusiastic to speak to Jason Sprawka, Escape Marketing Manager, at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, and hear about the future plan for this bread-and-butter vehicle.

Jason Sprawka, Ford Escape Marketing Manager

Sprawka started off by explaining that “most consumers start in the middle (size-wise) when car shopping.  The middle is largest segment. Then from there, they move to bigger or smaller options.” The new model boasts a sleeker and more modern design.  In their research conducting focus groups and satisfaction surveys regarding the Escape, Ford found that the area with the largest room for improvement was the design. Consumers wanted modern sophistication.

Sprawka shared that “the SUV elements are what people like about the current Escape, primarily the cargo room and tow capacity.  In redesigning the vehicle, we not only included these elements, but we improved upon them.  There’s more cargo space, as the vehicle in four inches longer, yet a sleeker design gives the illusion that it’s not longer.” Not only is the sleeker design aesthetically pleasing, but the sleeker design makes the Escape nearly 10% more aerodynamic…which, of course, means better fuel economy!

Standard in the 2013 Escape is the 2.5L, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated engine.  For the fuel efficient-minded consumer, the 1.6L EcoBoost engine provides better performance, and the highest level of efficiency. And for those looking for the punch, the 2.0L EcoBoost boasts 240 hp, yet gets around 28 to 29 mpg.  The new model is projected to be up to 5 mpg better than outgoing model, AND best in its class of compact SUVs.

2012 Chicago Auto Show

The 2013 Escape is the first Ford SUV to combine class exclusive technology– Curve Control, (which slows vehicle when it detects that you’re approaching a corner too quickly), and Torque Vectoring Control, (which helps transfer torque from the pivoting tire to the outside tire to maintain stability when accelerating through a corner.)  The new Intelligent 4WD helps keep control of the vehicle in adverse driving conditions, and also provides excellent traction off-road.  Using 25 external signals to function, including wheel speed, accelerator pedal position and steering wheel angle, this allows the system to assess road conditions and driver input 20 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Additional notable options include the panoramic Vista Roof, premium quality materials, SYNC with MyFord Touch, a premium Sony audio system, BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), and Active Park Assist. (For further explanation on these technologies, you can reference my post on the Fusion.)

Perhaps the most brilliant new feature, (in my opinion), and one which will particularly entice the ladies, is the handsfree liftgate.  This is enabled by

2013 Ford Escape, hands-free liftgate

motion technology used in today’s video games, under the rear bumper of the liftgate. All you need to do is simply kick your foot under the center of the rear bumber, (with the key fob in hand), and the hatch unlocks and raises.  This eliminates the need to dig for keys or set down any bags or equipment.  The same process also closes the liftgate.  (I could’ve really used this myself the other day as I was unloading my shopping bags.)

Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, there’s more cargo volume than outgoing Escape, partially due to the approximate 4 inch increase in length– 68.1 cubic feet of space behind the first row and 34.3 behind the second. The seat backs easily fold flat—  there’s a button for the head restraint, as well as a lever for the seat to flip forward.  The two-position load floor allows for either maximum luggage volume or a flat load floor.  AND, for those concerned about the utility aspect of the vehicle, the Escape has a trailer tow rating of 3,500 lbs.

So who’s the target customer? Well, let me preface this by noting that the small SUV segment fluctuates between the 3rd and 4th largest segment in the country.  Essentially it appeals to all, which represents a huge opportunity for those who can capture the market.

2013 Ford Escape, featuring SYNC with MyFord Touch

According to Sprawka, the target customer is “‘plugged-in,’ in their late 20s/early 30s, a highly-connected professional, design conscious, and really appreciates technology.  They like to feel good in what they drive.” He went on to explain that they want to demonstrate professional success in the vehicle that they drive, yet they want the utility aspect, and have a sense of adventure. Sprawka painted a clear picture when he discussed the results of their market research on the Escape, and mentioned how one individual said that “Mondays are better when there’s a great story to tell.” (I concur- no explanation necessary.)  And Sprawka added, “the Escape embodies this way of thinking.”

As to pricing– it remains about the same. However, I would like to note that despite the addition of all the new technology, the base price of $23,295 is is $200 less than the current Escape!

The newly designed Escape presents a global opportunity for Ford.  In Europe the sale of compact sport utilities has increased by 200% since 2000.  The Escape will be revealed in Europe (March) at the Geneva Motor Show as the “Ford Kuga,” with its own unique powertrains and features.  China will see the Kuga in the spring.

So will the new Escape live up to the public’s expectations?  Well, the design is distinctively different than the current model, which may deter some, but will obviously attract others.  That being said, in today’s society, when most of us are looking for versatility AND more technology in our vehicles, there’s no doubt that the 2013 Escape fits the mold.

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2012 Chicago Auto Show: Spotlight on FORD, Part 1….a resurgence of noteworthy & edgy designs

Posted by carsdiva on February 14, 2012

2013 Ford Fusion

How does one begin to describe the new 2013 Ford Fusion?  “High visual quality, improved materials, attention to detail, and elevated levels of craftsmanship— so it feels like quality to the driver. This is a culmination of the best platform globally,” says Zack Nakos , Product Marketing Manager for the Ford Fusion.  By 2015, this platform will serve as the derivative for over a million vehicles, beginning with the Fusion in the U.S., and followed by the Mondeo next year in Europe and then in Asia.  And it’s no doubt that this dramatically redesigned vehicle demands attention.

2013 Ford Fusion

The Fusion is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. “It’s about the power of choice,” says Nakos.  For those concerned about fuel economy, the 1.6L EcoBoost, 4-cylinder engine is expected to deliver best-in-class fuel efficiency (around 37mpg).  Also offered in the line-up is 2.0L EcoBoost for performance-minded consumers, interested in the punch.  Furthermore, the Fusion Energi, which is the plug-in hybrid, aims to be the most fuel efficient mid-size vehicle in the world, with projected numbers at over 100MPGe. (For those of you wondering about the “e” at the end, this is a mile per gallon equivalency metric for electrified vehicles.)

The current hybrid boasts a nickel-metal-hydride battery, but in the 2013 model, it’s been replaced with lithium ion.  Most of you are probably wondering what the hec does this mean?  Well it’s 50% less weight and consumes 25% less space than the former option.  It also raises the speed under electric-only power from 47 to 62 mph.  So at the end of the day, you save weight, add power, and increase the cargo room by saving space.

2013 Ford Fusion

Now let’s talk technology– it was a major focus at this year’s Chicago Auto Show across the board, but Ford’s no stranger on the subject matter, leading the way in the industry with what they have to offer.  Featured in the Fusion is their first automatic transmission with an automatic start/stop system.  This stops engine power when vehicle is stopped and seamlessly restarts as driver releases the brake pedal— in turn, this helps to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by about 3.5%.

Some of the additional advanced technology features that will be available in the 2013 Fusion include SYNC- Ford’s award-winning, industry-exclusive, voice- activated communications and entertainment system.  Delving further is the optional MyFord Touch system, which adds an 8 inch screen in the center stack, and two 4.2 inch LCD screens in the instrument cluster, giving the driver the option to control the system by voice, the touch screen, or the 5-way controllers on the left and right sides of the steering wheel.  Launched on the 2011 Ford Edge, the Fusion will feature the latest, most up-to-date version of the MyFord Touch technology.  An all-new Lane Keeping System helps to keep the driver in their intended lane, and also provides an alert when drowsy driving is detected. BLIS, (which stands for blind spot information system), detects when there are vehicles in driver’s blind spot, and a light is illuminated to warn the driver.  Cross Traffic Alert warns the driver of oncoming traffic when reversing out of a parking

2013 Ford Fusion

spot.  And Active Park Assist helps alleviate the anxiety of parallel parking by calculating the trajectory and steering the vehicle into a parallel parking space.  Adaptive Cruise Control, when activated, can detect slow traffic ahead and slows the vehicle to the appropriate speed, resuming the set speed when traffic has moved or increased speed.  It also incorporates Collision Warning which warns the driver of a potential collision and assists in decreasing brake time by pre-charging the brakes.

The new model has grown, (literally), one inch bigger in height and one inch bigger in length, and the nearly five inch bigger wheelbase gives the illusion of grandeur, coupled with the sleek and sophisticated exterior styling.  Pricing has not yet been revealed, but you can expect the base price to start just above $20,000.

And specifically for the ladies?  Well the number one concern was ergonomics, according to Nakos.  Ford conducted both external and internal research, and to that end, one of the main goals was to create a comfortable, yet safe driving position for the female driver, (apparent when I sat in the driver’s seat.)  A lower, flush lift-over for the trunk also makes it easier for shorter people to load and unload cargo.

2013 Ford Fusion

In terms of safety, the body strength was increased by 10%, and dual front row knee airbags were added, along with adaptive front airbags that vent and tether to conform to the specific occupant’s size, position, and seatbelt usage.

Produced in the Hermosillo, Mexico plant and later in Flat Rock, MI, the Ford Fusion will  be seen in North & South American dealerships later this year, followed by the Mondeo in Europe and Asia next year. As most of you know the 2010 Ford Fusion received several accolades, including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, and from what I can see, the future looks pretty bright.

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Putting it out there….Chevrolet’s New Ecologic Environmental Labels

Posted by carsdiva on February 13, 2012

At this year’s (2012) Chicago Auto Show, I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Devine, Chevrolet’s Cross Brand Marketing Manager, about the launch of their new Ecologic labels.  Bill started off by explaining how the Chevy brand has made a major transformation over the last several years– from being recognized as a brand known for performance vehicles and trucks, Chevrolet now showcases a robust portfolio of eco-conscious vehicles.  A perfect example is the all-electric Chevy Volt, followed by the Malibu ECO. “Our main goal is to extend our environmental responsibility by sharing the environmental attributes of each of our products.  We like to call it responsible manufacturing.”

Ecologic Label on 2012 Chevy Sonic

Ecologic Label on 2012 Chevy Sonic

The badge exemplifies a “wholistic” approach to environmental responsibility, expressing the “before”, “during”, and “after” in the vehicle lifespan.  It communicates vehicle-specific features like environmental aspects that relate to vehicle manufacturing and/or assembly (before); fuel-saving technologies, aerodynamics, lighter weight components, low-rolling resistance tires (during/on the road); and the “after” reflects how 85% of the vehicle, as determined by its weight, can be recycled at the end of the vehicle lifespan.  In essence the badging will showcase environmental features of the vehicle that relate to manufacturing, driving and recycling.

The label is audited by TwoTomorrows, an independent, third-party sustainability agency that provides auditing and assurance services to companies for environmental initiatives.  Devine went on to say that “they verify our technology, and more importantly how we articulate the information to the consumer.”

Chevrolet conducted two types of research in the process of the Ecologic label creation– qualitative (focus groups), and quantitative (metrics).  Female consumers were clearly interested, but they also found a significantly higher appeal amongst younger consumers (18-26), and older (46+) generations.

Ecologic 101

Ecologic 101

So what were the most compelling aspects?  According to the focus groups, consumers seemed to find the greatest appeal in the “landfill free” aspect of the manufacturing step, and also the “fuel saving technologies,” (for obvious reasons- we all want more bang for our buck).  Interestingly enough, they found women to be more in-sync with educational and informative labeling.  Ladies– perhaps this has something to do with the familiarity of reading nutrition labels at grocery stores?  Needless to say, I was curious as to how Devine thought this would affect the performance-minded consumers, and he stated that “it’s an eye-opener.”

When should we expect to see the labels?  The first vehicle to display the eco-badging will be the 2012 Sonic, put on by the manufacturer on the rear driver’s-side window, and we should see the vehicle sometime this February.  The Sonic will be followed by additional 2013 Chevy vehicles that will receive the label later this year.

Devine explained that Chevy started with the Sonic as it’s eco-friendly and also, it’s assembled in America.  “It’s a differentiation for us.  We’re going to get even more environmental credit.”

The Chevy-specific initiative, will debut first in the U.S. and then they will evaluate the global opportunity with the brand.  So what do you think folks–  Will this blatant display of information on environmental responsibility influence your car buying decision?  At very least, it’s a “feel good” motivator, right?

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