Ford Tries to Sell More Cars By Looking to a Future With Fewer Cars

Ford wants young people to think the company gets it. Source: ##

Ford has spent the last few years fretting about how to reach out to Gen Y. The car company made news earlier this year when it re-designed its 2015 Mustang to appeal to buyers born between 1980 and 1999. (Apparently Gen Y just screams “shark-nosed grille and round headlights” to Ford.)

Last year, Ford turned to marketing consultant Barbara Bylenga to explain this mysterious age cohort. She counseled them away from “flashy or snazzy” cars, saying Gen Yers “want to show their values, they want to show their success in different ways.” After all, “a flashy sports car makes you seem like maybe you’re trying a little too hard.”

Now the company is going a step further, trying to appeal to this demographic by displaying their grasp of the fact that demand for their product is waning. In a glossy, 74-page document that AdWeek characterizes as “an internal consumer trends report for 2013” [PDF], Ford attempts to demonstrate that it is “not myopic, but is going beyond making cars into being an enabler in mobility opportunities,” according to Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s “global futurist” and author of the report. The document highlights Portland’s Depave activists, bike-share systems in France and China (no mention of all the ones closer to home), and downtown revitalization efforts in Las Vegas and Carmel, Indiana, where “the mayor has set out to design a city for ‘people first and automobiles second.’”

So, what’s Ford’s place in this bright, green future?

It may help to review an episode from last year – not long after Bylenga made her pitch to Ford executives – when the company announced it was partnering with Zipcar to put Fords on 250 college campuses and subsidize the car-share fees for students. It was a move calculated to show that Ford is nimble enough to change with the times. “We are looking at the future of transportation more holistically,” Ford Executive Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr. told the New York Times. “We shouldn’t be threatened by these different business models. We should embrace them.”

Of course, as the Times wrote, Ford was betting that “drivers who rent from Zipcar by the hour just might be potential customers down the road.”

There’s no indication in the consumer trends report that this giant of the auto industry is going to start making profits by providing “mobility opportunities” other than driving Fords, and AdWeek reports that the company “doesn’t intend to scale down the traditional auto business.” Instead, “social business” maven Jeff Dachis told AdWeek, Ford’s release of the document is a brilliant stroke of branding. “Aligning itself with progressive trends helps Ford in the marketplace.”

13 thoughts on Ford Tries to Sell More Cars By Looking to a Future With Fewer Cars

  1. “We’re not going to tell people why they should smoke. We’ll tell them why they should smoke Lucky Strike.”

    –Don Draper.

  2. That made for some super-confusing reading.  How does a glossy 75-page flyer on how my age cohort is driving less going to sell more cars?

    If they want me to help them sell Fords, they should put a sensor network and automatic braking system on them that prevents the driver from passing a cyclist too close.

  3. As a matter of perspective, check out the Ford ad in Life Magazine in 1952, pages 74 and 75.

    The half century they were looking forward to then was sure a lot different than the half century we are looking forward to now.  If only we knew then what we know now, eh?

  4. Cars are what Ford does. Just like bikes are what Cannondale does. That’s their line of business. The single occupancy vehicle may be on its way out, but we’re not quite there yet. How can you realistically expect Ford to be anything other than what it is?

    Also, to the author, the link you posted to the redesigned Mustang show a car with thin, angular lights and the new frog faced Ford corporate grille design. I think you’re confusing the photos of the current Mustang (in green) with the renderings of the new one below it (in red). FWIW the new one now conforms to European pedestrian impact standards, which the old one did not – this is a good thing. The appeal to Gen Y ostensibly stems from its appearance, which is more like the 80s era Mustangs that high school kids have been wrapping around telephone poles since the mid 1990s than the bloated current version designed to appeal to Boomer nostalgia.

  5. If Ford really wants to take the lead here it might try something radical, perhaps vowing to make nothing but EVs in 5 years time. It could also at the same time push populated areas to legislate “zero emission” zones where gas cars are banned in order to have a ready market for their products. Sure, EVs are still cars with all the attendant problems, but I’d much rather live in a NYC which banned gas cars and diesel trucks.

  6. If Ford wants to make cars more social and less environmentally destructive, it should promote dynamic carpooling on a fee (to the driver) for service basis as a suburban form of mass transit.  That would be a “mobility opportunity” for those who do not want to pay for their own cars, or one car per adult, for seniors who can no longer drive.

    Lots of people are going to be stranded out there in suburbia.  A fuel efficient sedan with four people in it many not use that much more fuel per passenger mile than a bus, and would create less congestion than four people in four SUVs.

  7. @Eric McClure – you already can get a car with an integrated bike (or ski) rack, the Smart ForTwo. Once they sort out a surfboard attachment, they’ll be unstoppable.

  8. @0725e26de8afcbf0a72ccf98de3fb783:disqus: To be fair, there’s more to Ford’s business model than cars. They are also a huge manufacturer of trucks and vans, and they make almost as much money on financial services as on selling vehicles. “Selling cars” may be the plurality of their business, but it’s not unrealistic to think that Ford might be able respond to a changing business environment with more than marketing. Or even with just marketing, there is likely to remain a place for at least one major auto manufacturer for a long time. If ford can ride that curve better than their competition, they might stay profitable even absent major changes in the industry.

  9. Young people who go to college are often leaving school with a huge amount of debt. How do they expect them to take on more debt for a car too? And with the stagnant economy, getting a job that pays decently is more difficult than it was for the boomers. Again, how do you then tack on 20-30k in debt for a new car?

  10. This is extremely similar to the logic of Daimler who last month launched Car2Go in Stuttgart, Germany with an all electric vehicle fleet. They have already launched in a number of US and European cities with a plan to profit from all 2 aspects of car sharing (hardware ie the Smart cars), the technology to make car sharing easier through their subsidiary, Moovel, (software) and the service side (car2go). It’s a brave new world.

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