Major automakers in the U.S. fight a constant battle to figure out what consumers want, and to deliver those attributes in a vehicle better than the competition. It's no easy task, to be sure, as consumer preferences can swing wildly with new trends or economic factors such as rising or declining gas prices.
J.D. Power recently released a study pointing out what factors consumers most consider when buying a new vehicle, and what factors caused them to walk away. The good news for Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), which recently debuted one of its most aggressive vehicle launch strategies in 2014, is that it continues to focus on what consumers deem important.
It comes as no surprise ...
J.D. Power's 2015 U.S. Avoider Study, now in its 12th year, not surprisingly found that the top reason U.S. consumers avoided a particular vehicle was its exterior design (30%). More surprising, though, was the second factor that caused U.S. consumers to walk away: interior design (17%).
The latter has become a big focus for the folks in Dearborn.
"Vehicle interiors have witnessed one of the biggest evolutions across the history of cars in recent years," said Raj Nair, Ford Motor Company group vice president, Global Product Development, in a press release. "Not only have we introduced a great deal of useful new technology into our cars and trucks, we consistently are adding better materials, improved design and increased features across the board, from high-end vehicles to entry-level segments."
Ford knows interior designs are important and the company is using high-tech research methods to get an edge on the competition, going as far as to use biometrics and eye tracking to measure where consumer eyesight lingers most.
Consumers continue to demand innovative technology as well -- think of the recent improvements in infotainment screens and device/Internet connectivity -- and that's another reason behind Ford's push into performance vehicles. The company is bringing more than 12 new performance vehicles to market through 2020, and the team is banking that as it pushes innovative features on these top-end vehicles, it will produce a trickle-down effect, allowing it to add successful technologies and performance improvements to its mainstream vehicles.
For instance, and this is just me thinking out loud, it's possible the 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine, which promises more than 600 horsepower to the rear wheels of Ford's recently debuted GT supercar, could eventually find its way under the hood of a high-end Mustang.
Yet another innovation Ford's pursuing is providing exactly what consumers want: fuel economy.
According to J.D. Power, consumers cite gas mileage as the most influential reason when deciding to purchase a new-vehicle. That's the fourth consecutive year that gas mileage was the most important factor in this study. That's good news for Ford, which has continued to tout its EcoBoost turbocharged engines as a great way to save on fuel while not sacrificing performance.
In March Ford announced it had hit a milestone: a Ford Focus 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine became the 5 millionth EcoBoost-equipped vehicle to be manufactured. Ford's marketing of EcoBoost engines has been very successful, and now Ford produces more than 200,000 EcoBoost engines per month worldwide. That's impressive when you consider that the EcoBoost was launched in 2009 and Ford only celebrated its 500,000th EcoBoost-equipped engine less than three years ago.
As a more specific example of the impact the new EcoBoost lineup can have on sales, consider the 2015 Mustang, where it gives the iconic ride a way to attract a new consumer. The Mustang has never had problems attracting the consumer that didn't worry about fuel economy, with its muscle car image and V-8 engine. However, more fuel-conscious consumers often skipped the Mustang -- but that may not be the case anymore.
The 2015 Mustang equipped with the V8 gets 16 mpg/city and 25 mpg/highway, while the EcoBoost-equipped Mustang gets a 25% bump in fuel economy to 21 mpg/city and 32 mpg/highway. Though part of the Mustang's spike in sales can be attributed to the release of the new model itself, its sales through the first two months of 2015 are nothing short of impressive: Sales soared 124% in January year over year, and are still up 66% for the first two months of this year combined, compared to 2014. That puts it on pace to outsell its chief rival, the Chevrolet Camaro, for the first full year since 2009.
Ford has been doing a lot of things well in recent years, and this only emphasizes that the company's strategy continues to target exactly what consumers are looking for. That's great news for Ford's investors and consumers, alike.