Thursday, April 13, 2006

New York 2006: Ford Emphasizing Performance

"...I am from the school that says performance vehicles make brands stronger.

I believe they have a critical role in our Way Forward because they challenge our designers and engineers to excel, they excite our marketers and they make a strong emotional connection to customers – usually through the right foot."

-Ford Motor Co. Executive Vice President, Mark Fields

The Ford press conference at NYIAS on Wednesday featured an update on the company's "Way Forward" recovery plan by VP Mark Fields. In his address, Fields stated that a strong performance image is essential, and he laid out a 3-tiered approach to sustaining it.

1. Personalized Performance

Ford wants to address enthusiasts' desire for "upgraded power, performance, and appearance."

Does this mean more limited-edition Mustangs like the upcoming California Special?

2007 Ford Mustang GT California Special

Could we see a factory car that's thematically similar to one of the SEMA Fusions or the audacious Funkmaster Flex Fusion Custom on display in New York this week?

FS Werks Ford Fusion built for SEMA 2005

2006 Funkmaster Flex Ford Fusion Custom at NYIAS

How about a different sport-minded Focus? At least offer the 154-hp ST package on the inherently sportier ZX3 hatchback instead of making it exclusive to the Zx4.

It's going to be interesting to see how Ford appeals to their "personalized performance" customers, a group that potentially includes everyone from collectors to tuners.

2. SVT

Rumors of SVT's death appear to be greatly exaggerated, as Fields said that the plan going forward is to have a performance Mustang and a performance truck in the model lineup. Today, that Mustang is the Shelby GT500. As for the truck, well, who knows? One would guess that this re-opens the doors for the return of the F150 Ligntning, since Ford killed the Sport trac Adrenalin earlier this year.

For what it's worth, the slide that was on display behind Fields during his speech clearly showed the silhouette of an F-150 next to the photo of the '07 GT500. While a Lightning revival is still pure speculation at this point, it makes perfect sense. The Shelby GT500's blown 5.4L V8 is based on the 5.4L Triron V8 truck engine. Drop it in the F-150, connect it to an automatic transmission, and presto: a new Lightning.

If they do it, they'll sell them all.

2003 Detroit Auto Show SVT Lightning Concept. Is a comeback in the making?

3. Ford Racing / Ford Racing Performance Parts

Fields closed by specifically mentioning the Mustang FR500C (above) as well as the large portfolio of Ford Racing parts available for the company's street cars. Whether a customer wants to buy a race-prepped Mustang straight from the factory, or simply make his standard production Mustang a little meaner, Ford can accomodate those needs.

As you can see, there are plenty of scenarios in which the parts of the Ford performance strategy potentially overlap. To illustrate this kind of synergy between the different facets of the performance strategy, Fields summoned the car everyone had gathered to see.

To Be Continued...