Study finds most Ford sedan customers say they will leave brand rather than buy crossovers, SUVs or trucks

Many Ford Fusion owners switch brands when they trade in their cars, KBB says.

Ford Motor Co. could have trouble keeping some U.S. sedan customers after discontinuing the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus, a Cox Automotive study indicates.

Many Ford owners surveyed said they’ll likely buy their next vehicle from one of Ford’s rivals. Among Ford sedan owners, half said they would switch to a new or used car from another automaker for their next vehicle. Only 10 percent said they would get a new crossover or SUV from Ford; 5 percent said they’ll get a Ford Mustang and 3 percent said they will drive a new Ford pickup.

While the survey’s sample size is small — of the 2,697 responders, only 104 owned Ford vehicles — it highlights the problems Ford faces as it repositions its lineup. And it suggests that, although Ford has said it will replace its sedans with new vehicles at similar prices, the public might not yet understand that strategy.

“Ford’s got some work to do in terms of clearing up the message to owners of these vehicles if they want any shot of keeping them,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Autotrader, which is part of Cox. “They need to do some educating.”

Most of the study’s responders said they were surprised by Ford’s decision to discontinue U.S. sedan sales, and most said they opposed it.

That stands in stark contrast to consumers’ buying habits, as car sales continue to fall. Still, Ford’s loss could be another automaker’s gain.

For example, 53 percent of owners who trade in a Ford Fusion already go to a different brand, according to Kelley Blue Book data. They’re most likely to defect to a Honda Accord, Civic or CR-V or a Toyota Camry or RAV4.

General Motors — which struggled to keep Pontiac and Saturn customers after killing those brands as part of its bankruptcy restructuring — thinks it can cash in on Ford’s decision. “We see a terrific opportunity to forge new and stronger customer relationships with such a broad portfolio,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said this year in a news release.

McNeil said GM views sedans as crucial to its lineup because “they typically offer very good safety, comfort, fuel economy and a lower total cost of ownership than other vehicle choices.”

Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, this year noted that exiting the car business carries some risk for the company and its dealers, especially among entry-level buyers. But he said Ford would offer vehicles with a different body style at entry prices.

“We think we can tempt some of those customers with an image upgrade,” Farley told Automotive Newsin April. “Where Ford does best is where we play to our strength of emotional products.”

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