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Engine marketing task at GM, Ford: Make small look big

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Engine marketing task at GM, Ford: Make small look big

Chrissie Thompson

Automotive News -- April 26, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

DETROIT -- Chris Meagher's dad is a lifelong Buick buyer. But when Meagher, a top General Motors Co. powertrain engineer, gets his dad into a new Regal, he'll sidestep talk about its four-cylinder engine.

That's because his father has always preferred V-8s, reflecting Detroit's long love affair with big, powerful engines.

Meagher's approach with his dad highlights a marketing challenge at the Detroit 3 as they launch smaller engines in near-luxury cars, pickups and muscle cars. The key, marketers and executives say, is to reach mainstream buyers with a fuel-economy pitch without alienating performance enthusiasts.

For example, when Buick changes the standard engine on the LaCrosse from a V-6 to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the 2011 model year, the brand probably will have separate commercials to advertise fuel economy and to pitch high-tech features, says Doug Osterhoff, marketing manager for the LaCrosse.

"This car was really developed to have kind of a wide bandwidth in terms of pricing and consumer positioning," says Osterhoff. "People that would gravitate to the [base] CX model -- fuel economy is more important to them."

Luring customers who care about fuel economy is an increasing priority for automakers. Federal fuel economy standards will rise to a fleet average of 35.5 mpg in the 2016 model year, compared with 27.3 mpg in 2011.

Targeted marketing

Automakers are taking advantage of the targeted marketing available today, says consultant Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics in suburban Detroit. Companies now use well developed studies of Web, TV and print audiences to choose who hears what message.

"Twenty-first-century marketing is not trying to tell everybody everything about every car," Hall says. "It's finding the venue for certain customers and using it, and it's finding the information that's important to certain customers."

Meanwhile, Hall says, Ford has a challenge on its hands to sell EcoBoost V-6 engines to F-150 pickup buyers, who typically prefer V-8s. EcoBoost is Ford's marketing name for engines that use turbocharging and direct injection. The V-6 will be an option on the F-150 late this year.

Ford needs to show at least a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy to make the sale, Hall says. Ford has declined to comment on the percentage of fuel economy improvement, saying only that the V-6 will get better fuel economy than a current V-8.

"If it drives like an eight[-cylinder] but does not give you appreciably better fuel economy than an eight, why would you buy it?" Hall says. "They have to use that number to get the guy to the dealership to drive it. I think they have no choice but to really play up the driving experience."

The F-150 launch is especially important, Hall says, because its success can set Ford up to use V-6 sales to help with stricter fuel economy rules.

"These pickups will not be half the F-150 business," he says. "It's about launching it with good perception so you can build on it, rather than launching it with a bunch of people saying, 'Why are you doing this?' "

GM marketers say they have the same long-term strategy.

"The sense of urgency now is the government standards," Osterhoff says, "but I also think we would be doing a lot of this because we need to for the future."

He says GM wants to get its fuel-efficient offerings on consumers' minds now, before gasoline prices inch above $4 a gallon again, as the company expects.

And, says David McIntyre, product manager for the LaCrosse, the company wants to have the ability to ramp up production of fuel-sipping engines if the market starts demanding more.

Mustang for import buyers

To create a market for smaller engines without turning off enthusiasts, Ford and GM also have these plans:

-- Buick will advertise its 2011 Regal as a vehicle that's fun to drive and doesn't sacrifice fuel economy, says Craig Bierley, director of advertising and sales promotion for Buick-GMC. The Regal's base engine is a 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder, but it will add an optional 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder late this summer that will produce 220 hp.

-- Ford is planning separate marketing blitzes to advertise the V-6 and V-8 versions of its 2011 Mustang. The Mustang's new V-6 offers 305 hp, compared with 210 hp on the 2010 version.

But the TV commercial that Ford is creating for May broadcast focuses on the V-6 version's fuel economy, says Amy Marentic, Ford's group marketing manager for North American cars and crossovers.

The 2011 Mustang V-6 gets 31 mpg on the highway, and Ford is hoping that number will win over import buyers. Marentic says social media and female bloggers also will contribute to the V-6 marketing.

Jamie LaReau and Dave Guilford contributed to this report

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100426/RETAIL03/304269948/1430#ixzz0mDfPs0qm

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Perception is the key. If most people drove a 2.0 Turbo they would be shocked at the performance and the MPG.

I used to be the kind that would give up my V8 when the pryed it from my cold dead hands. Today I drive a Tubo 4 and love it. I never wanted FWD till I also got one tuned by John Hienricy.

I have gotten wise with the new technology and learned you don't have to have a V8 to have real performance. My Tubo 4 is faster than my 68 Chevelle SS was new. Not to mention stops and turns faster too.

While driving the new Camaro SS it was great but not a shock to my system as my daily driver would keep pretty close pace.

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