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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Thrifty Fiesta to launch when gas prices on rise

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Thrifty Fiesta to launch when gas prices on rise

Automaker says April off to good start; analyst expects a good year

BY BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Ford plans to launch its all-new Fiesta early this summer at about the same time that gas prices typically hit their peak.

Ford has said that it expects its Fiesta will get 40 m.p.g. on the highway and 30 m.p.g. in city driving. On Tuesday, the average price of gas in the U.S. was $2.86, or 81 cents higher than a year ago.

"Our point of view on the market over the last several years is that people will continue to migrate towards ... more fuel-efficient cars," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said Tuesday in Detroit at an event connected with the opening of the SAE World Congress, an automotive engineering conference. "That's why the new Fiesta and the Focus will play such an important role for us."

The Fiesta is one of several cars and trucks that Ford is introducing this year.

Rebecca Lindland, automotive analyst for IHS Global Insight, said Ford has gained market share this year because it invested heavily in product development over the past four years.

"They do still have some work to do on some of their products," Lindland said. "But we are expecting Ford to continue to do well through 2010."

For the first three months of this year, Ford's share of U.S. sales was 17.4%, or 2.7 percentage points higher than the same period in 2009. Also, Ford's U.S. sales increased 37% for the first three months of this year, more than double the industry increase of 15.5%.

Fields said Ford achieved its market-share gains with sales increases for cars, SUVs and pickups. He also said early sales results for April are better than a year ago.

"We still have most of the month ahead of us, but it's encouraging so far," Fields said.

In addition, Fields said an incentive battle led by Toyota in March has not hurt Ford.

"Not only did we have good balanced share growth ... year-over-year our incentives were down and our revenue was up," Fields said.

He declined to elaborate further because the company is in a quiet period. Ford typically reports first-quarter earnings at the end of April.

"We've said ... our intent for this year is to be profitable in North America, profitable in automotive (operations) and profitable as a company," Fields said.

In addition to new products, Ford also has aggressive plans to introduce new engines this year.

On Tuesday, Barb Samardzich, Ford's vice president of powertrain engineering, said Ford plans to offer its direct-injection, turbocharged EcoBoost engines on 11 models globally, or seven more than the company currently offers, by the end of this year.

First introduced in 2009, Ford's EcoBoost engines combine direct fuel-injection and turbocharging technology to increase horsepower with better fuel economy.

Although Ford also has plans to produce a variety of hybrid-electric, plug-in electric and electric cars, the company's EcoBoost engines are to remain a cornerstone of its fuel-efficiency effort for years to come.

"The reception from customers has been fantastic," Samardzich said. "The foundation of our sustainability strategy is EcoBoost."

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100414/BUSINESS01/4140323/1331/Thrifty-Fiesta-to-launch-when-gas-prices-on-rise&template=fullarticle

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