British car registrations seem to defy the depression suffered by much of the rest of the retail sales market and Ford continues to lead the way.
It’s superb little Fiesta model top the UK sales charts with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reporting registrations over the first seven months of 2012 up more than 40,000 units or 3.5% to 1,201,564 units.
So SI went to the launch of the new Focus ST hot-hatch to find out what are the sorts of sales strategies the factory are applying to new models.
David Calder, product manager Ford UK told us that while model launches can include some common elements, the factory are keen to explore new ways of selling the dream that each individual model can provide.
Speaking at the UK launch of the ST at Ford’s press garage in West London, he said: “Of the model launches that I’ve been involved in there are certain core elements you have to try to encompass in launching a vehicle.
“The basics, like making sure you have the product, making sure the launch stock has been worked out, all that sort of stuff, including a training plan for the dealers, all of those elements are covered.
“I guess once you’ve done it once or twice the same format applies. But each product is different and there are different challenges with that. Sometimes this is a physical challenge in that you may not have all the entities that you want at any particular time and you have to tailor your launch to that.”
From a salesman’s point of view the ST must be among the easiest models to inspire excitement boasting a healthy 247 brake horsepower and a 0-60mph sprint time of just 6.5 seconds, while still maintaining Ford’s everyday practicality.
Calder said: “The ST has been a fairly simple one to be honest with you because, much as STs for us is quite a halo product being somewhat aspirational, at the end of the day it’s a derivative of the regular Focus.
“There are some fine tuning and there are some bespoke parts to it but essentially it remains a Focus series.
“So the launch of the ST has been more around communications. Some of the issues you might get with a new model, for instance having a run-out strategy do not really come into play because the old ST came to an end when the old Focus came to an end.
“But from a communications point of view it’s been quite an interesting challenge, although not my particular forte, I think the guys on that side have had to think a little more out-of-the-box. That’s because we’ve just launched B-Max we’ll be launching Kuga coming along in a few months time and there’s only a certain amount to marketing money to spread around so do you put it on something like the ST which is a derivative or do you keep some of that money for these completely new products where there is not, necessarily in the case of B-Max, a substantial existing customer base.”
Thinking out of the box meant finding a ‘sexy’ angle to pitch and those angles do not come much more attractive than the ST starring alongside Ray Winstone in the new Sweeney movie – a classic tyre squealing cops-and-robbers car chase film out this autumn.
Calder explained: “In the case of the ST, the neat thing that the team has done is to dial into the motorsports enthusiasts which fits very well with the ST buyer profile and I think working on the Sweeney film is a reasonably good fit because the of profile of the customer who buys ST and that genre of movie.
“As a result I think the ST and the Sweeney movie sort of compliment each other and has given us the opportunity to create some news about ST fairly early on in its sales phase. For a new model you wouldn’t normally get that sort of coverage and certainly seems to have engaged with the target audience because you still see tweets about it.”
He added that the heritage factor of the ST badge migrating from the old model also smooth’s the path to sales of the new car.
“The audience is very similar to the audience of the previous car so we’re talking to the same people in many respects, “ Calder said. “The comms team work with movie people and with advertising people and they can profile the sort of people who are going to see the movie and see how that fits with our customer and from that we build a wider campaign which will come out over the course of the next few months.”
But Ford had to adopt an entirely different sales strategy for the mould-breaking people carrier, the B-Max, which, ironically considering its name, does away with a ‘B’-pillar completely to permit ultimate access space through its electrically operated sliding side doors.
Calder explained: “With the B-Max it’s been quite an extensive pre-sell in others words getting the car exposed to people, introducing it to dealers early on so for quite a number of weeks now the car has been in that pre-sale phase. We’ve had some very early-build units that we’ve been taking out to potential customers. We would normally, for example, first show cars to whole-life cost providers so we could get some residual value estimates but instead we’ve got hold of more cars and have been taking them to key customers, to dealers, to our sales district offices which they have been taking to promotional events but also to particular customer groups.
“This is a hands-on strategy to let people see just how easy this car is to live with. First of all how much space is in this car and then what it is like to drive and really to try and expose the car as early as possible.
“This is not the huge amounts of TV money we would have for a vehicle like the B-Max so we try to build up enthusiasm among the dealer network and those key customers.
“That seems to be proving reasonably effective and we’ve seen a lot of upsurge in orders for the car.
“This is the first time we’ve really actively tried to pre-sell beyond a pre-sell concept for a few people. This is a much longer and more extended period and we will see what will happen and it may be something that we will try again.
“It’s been quite an interesting experience.”