Anything to celebrate in the Fiesta launch?

Fiesta’s revamp as a car for 20-/30-somethings looks shaky. While Ford may have created a design that pleases this highly aspirant market, rivals threaten to run the strategy off-road with similar ‘supermini’ launches.

Ford is pinning its hopes of a renaissance next year on the relaunch of the Fiesta, the UK’s fourth biggest-selling car. After a turbulent 2001, during which it lost its chief executive Jacques Nasser, suffered three consecutive loss-making quarters, experienced the humiliation of the Firestone tyre recall fiasco and axed tens of thousands of jobs, much is riding on the success of the new-look Fiesta.

But Ford is not alone in its plans to gain ground in the booming small-car sector. The revamped Fiesta will be competing with two completely new launches – the CitroëC3 and the Honda Jazz – as well as a relaunched Volkswagen Polo. Next spring, consumers who are considering paying upwards of £7,000 for a “B” class car – the so-called superminis – will be bombarded with a level of marketing activity previously unseen in the car market.

As a Citroëspokesman says: “I believe it is unprecedented to have four vehicles new in the market within the space of four weeks. I can’t think of a previous time when it has happened.”

While the news of big-buck marketing campaigns will thrill the much beleaguered TV advertising houses, it will mean Ford’s revamped Fiesta could be in for a tough time. For the year to November 2001 the Fiesta sold about 93,304 vehicles, but was beaten to third place by arch-rival the Peugeot 206, which sold 93,468 – just 164 more. But the fact the 206 was only launched in November 1998 is likely to have given it a head start – the Fiesta has been in its present format for some 12 years, benefiting from only minor upgrades over the years.

With a futuristic look and a multi-million pound ad campaign to accompany its relaunch in February, the Fiesta is Ford’s new hope to turn around its fortunes in Europe.

The company plans to target a much younger market with this new car. “Traditionally our cars are sold to 49-year-olds,” says Fiesta brand manager Bill Rumble. “We’re trying to bring that average age down to 28.”

“No one really aspires to own a Fiesta,” says a marketing director from a rival car company. “That is Ford’s biggest problem. Young people are more likely to go for something like the CitroëC3, which I reckon will be the clear winner.”

According to Rumble, Ford has already launched a teaser campaign using interactive games to take the new Fiesta to younger consumers. “We launched an unbranded interactive game in September, which people played for an average of 15 minutes. We then followed this up with a game in which people could take a virtual journey in a Fiesta around Europe.”

Rumble claims this was a ploy to get younger people – a market that is traditionally hard to seduce – interacting with the Fiesta brand, using a “softly, softly” approach.

One mistake Ford may have already made is that, according to Rumble, the company has decided to use a pan-European advertising campaign. Such broad-brush drives traditionally fail to win the imagination of the UK audience.

“The Fiesta brand has been around for years, it’s like Andrex,” says Anthony MacLean customer and relationship manager for Skoda. “I think Ford will sell many on the back of that alone, particularly to the fleets, but if it runs a bland Euro-ad it could find itself struggling.”

Although the new Fiesta has been redesigned by Ford’s New Edge Design team, which in the past has produced the Puma and the Ford Focus, some observers say the Fiesta’s new look is less inspiring, and they criticise it for “mundanity”.

Yet, though the Citroëcar may be considered to be more aesthetically appealing by consumers, the Fiesta will win the sales, according to most in the sector. Ford’s only real problem is the fact it is up against so many competitors at once.

Ford’s Focus is the top-selling car in the world, and Rumble is hoping that the Fiesta will, at the very least, come second to it in the UK. “What brand manager wouldn’t aspire to that?” he adds.

The car is launching in April. Although the Fiesta’s pricing is being kept under wraps, it is expected to go on the market from about £9,000. Ford refuses to reveal details about finance plans to lure customers into showrooms. As a spokesman for Citroën, which is launching the C3 in April, says: “There is no way anyone would reveal information like that so that competitors can launch a better deal.”

But Ford must attract new customers to its brand, and locking young drivers in is crucial to this strategy. Revamping the Fiesta as the early-entry car to the Ford marque is considered an essential move by the industry, though the three other similar launches are sure to make Fiesta’s rebirth a less than easy one.

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