Ford Rises to a Challenge

DETROIT A new campaign for Ford’s Fusion sedan will feature the results of a head-to-head driving challenge with the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord in which the Fusion received top ratings in several categories.

The drive, organized by Car and Driver and funded by Ford, took place in Washington, D.C., in December and used 600 of the magazine’s subscribers as testers.

The event sought to connect a “huge gap between perception and reality,” said Barry Engle, general manager of Ford marketing. “When these drivers drove the Accord and Camry, they came away and said, ‘That wasn’t near as good as I thought it would be.'”

Engle said that the drivers favored the Fusion in four areas, including styling, performance, handling and “fun to drive.”

There were 11 rating categories in all, and the Fusion did not fare well in perception of quality. “This isn’t about Camry and it isn’t about Accord, but it’s about making sure that we are on consumers’ lists when they go to look at a car,” Engle said.

He would not say how much Ford paid for the event.

Car and Driver conducted the drive blindly, meaning that it did not inform the participants who was sponsoring the event.

Ford was emboldened by the overall ratings, in which brand perception of the Fusion increased 35 percent and purchase intent jumped nearly 15 percent, said Rob Houghtlin, publisher of Car and Driver.

“You don’t have to win every category to make it drive-intent,” Houghtlin said. “And consumers don’t always understand that the reality from the standpoint of quality is that Ford can be as good or better than the Asian brands.”

The copy for the print ads, via JWT, Detroit, says, “Recently in Washington, D.C., a town known for its strong opinions, Car and Driver held a head-to-head comparison. Six hundred car enthusiasts were asked to compare three cars in performance, handling and styling.”

The tagline for the campaign: “This test had a lot of turns. And one big twist. (Ford Fusion beat Camry and Accord).”

In a previously published review of the 2006 Fusion, Car and Driver noted, “In a comparison test of midsize four-door sedans, the Fusion finished an impressive second, trailing only the Honda Accord while leading the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.”

The test results are the crux of a national campaign that began Thursday, with broadcast, print and a Web site, fusionchallenge.com.

Engle said that employing the names of its chief competition might be used in the future advertising. The company has said for the last few years that it has eliminated a long-held quality gap between itself and brands like Toyota, which constantly tops quality lists.

“This is something we could do more of in the future with our models in other segments,” Engle said. “We want to see how this goes first.”

Ford spent $210 million on ads for the Fusion from January through October last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. For the same period, the brand spent a total of $870 million.