Would you buy a super-fancy Ford Fusion?
It's a question that Ford (NYSE: F ) will soon be asking in Europe. Ford this past week unveiled what it said is "a unique upscale product and ownership experience in Europe called Vignale."
What does that mean? It's a super-fancy trim line that will soon be available on several Ford models -- and that comes with VIP treatment at Ford dealers, among other perks.
Ford released photos of the Vignale version of its upcoming new Mondeo, the European version of the Fusion sedan. It's an interesting idea that might do well in Europe.
But would it ever work in the U.S.?
A new super-premium line of Fords – and a VIP experience for buyers
First, let's explain where the name – pronounced "vin-YA-le," by the way -- came from. Carrozzeria Vignale was an old-school Italian "coachbuilder" -- a company that made custom car bodies to order -- that Ford acquired many years ago.
Ford has used the "Vignale" name on various luxury-minded concepts aimed at Europe over the years. But this is a whole new thing: Essentially, Ford is creating a new luxury brand for Europe, using its existing model line.
Ford's top-trim level for the Fusion in the U.S. is called "Titanium," and it's pretty fancy. It includes nice leather seats, a sophisticated sound system, and a lot of features normally associated with luxury cars. A Fusion Titanium costs quite a bit more than a base model -- the Titanium starts at $30,500, versus $21,900 for a bare-bones Fusion -- but it includes a lot more content.
It also means -- and this is significant -- a lot more profit for Ford. Ford has had terrific profit margins here in North America in recent quarters, and appealing options packages have made a big contribution to Ford's bottom line.
Vignale takes things one big step beyond the European equivalent of Ford's Titanium models in terms of luxury and personal service. And while Ford hasn't yet announced pricing for the Vignale models, it's likely to be one big step up in terms of profits, as well.
Here's what makes the Vignale models special
So, what does a Vignale Mondeo include that a Titanium model doesn't? An even more plush interior, for starters, with special seats, quilted trim, and lots of high-quality soft leather. Outside, there are special wheels, chrome door handles and other trim touches, and distinctive "Vignale" badges so that your neighbors get the message: This isn't just an ordinary Ford.
It also comes with a special level of service at selected Ford dealers, a "VIP" experience inspired by those being offered by airlines and banks and other businesses that cater to the well-heeled. Dealers will have a special area just for Vignale customers, and will offer services like free pick-up and delivery of cars that need service, free car washes for life, and some special events to make owners feel, well, special.
It all sounds a little surreal. So why does Ford think this is a good idea?
Why Ford thinks the Vignale concept will work
Ford said in a statement that the Vignale idea "responds to an increasing trend toward time-saving services, and reflects demand for high-end Ford products. Higher specification models currently account for more than half of Ford's large car sales in Europe."
The name and details may be new but, like I said, this isn't a completely new idea for Ford. Have you ever seen an F-150 Limited? Ford's F-150 pickup starts at a little over $24,000 for a bare-bones model, but the top-of-the-line Limited trim – which gives you special chrome trim and luxury-car-like features and interior -- starts at $53,300. It's a nice truck, and a very nice source of profits for Ford -- and a strategy that General Motors, among others, has begun to copy.
Here in the U.S., Ford aims to capture premium buyers with its Titanium trim line -- but if you want an even more deluxe Ford product, you'll have to stop by your Lincoln dealer. Ford doesn't sell Lincolns in Europe, and trying to get it established against brands like BMW and Audi on their home turf isn't likely to go well.
Vignale is aimed at a little different audience: Ford buyers who are willing and able to pay up for a premium experience. That could end up being a good move for Ford in Europe, where the company has been pushing hard to increase its earnings, if these Vignale cars appeal to luxury-minded buyers. Will they? We'll find out.
So what do you think? Would you buy something like a Vignale-trimmed Fusion here in the U.S., or do you think Ford should stick to basics? Scroll down to leave a comment, and let me know.
The new Vignale concept is just one part of Ford's strategy for increasing earnings in Europe -- one of several key things that need to fall into place before Ford's stock can soar. In The Motley Fool's special free report entitled, "5 Secrets to Ford's Future," we outline the key factors every Ford investor needs to watch. Just click here now for your free report.