DETROIT, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co launched a marketing campaign on Thursday touting its new C-Max hybrid crossover as more powerful and fuel efficient than Toyota Motor Co's Prius v, the larger, four-door model.
Hybrid sales account for about 3 percent of the U.S. auto market, but about one in three car shoppers say they will consider buying a hybrid. Ford is betting the C-Max's features, such as its 47 miles per gallon fuel economy, will encourage shoppers, who are on the fence to buy a hybrid.
"If 30 percent of people consider a hybrid, but it's less than 5 percent of the industry what that tells us is that there's an unmet need," Matt VanDyke, director of Ford's U.S. marketing communications. "What people are seeing is that they go test drive a competitive product and they find out that they have to make sacrifices that they're not willing to make. They can't pass the semi on the highway. They don't feel comfortable entering an onramp."
The second-largest U.S. automaker says its new C-Max gets seven miles per gallon more than the Prius v and has 188 horsepower compared to the 134 horsepower in the Prius v. The C-Max's base price is also about $1,300 less.
But in its ad campaign for the C-Max, Ford took care not to disparage Prius owners, who tend to be staunchly loyal to their cars.
Instead, the company tried to strike a whimsical tone with its TV advertisements, inspired by a 1970s Italian animated children's series called "La Linea." The series was also popular in the United States in the 1980s.
Additionally, Ford is promoting the C-Max online through a series of videos called "The Hybrid Games", a riff on the popular young adult novels and blockbuster movie, "The Hunger Games."
"When people consider hybrids, Prius is on the shopping list and we know that," said VanDyke. "We really want to establish C-Max as an alternative."
Ford has made improving fuel economy one of the central pillars of its business strategy and has been vocal about its desire to challenge Toyota's reputation for fuel economy.
To do this, Ford is accelerating development of its hybrid and electric vehicles by bringing the design and production of key components in-house. The C-Max is a model that Ford brought from Europe, which allowed the automaker to cut down on development costs.
The five-passenger, crossover C-Max will also be offered as the company's first plug-in hybrid, to debut later this year.
Later, Ford will have plug-in hybrid versions of the Fusion sedan and the Lincoln MKZ sedan. So far, Ford has sold nearly 1,000 C-Max hybrids in the United States. Pricing of the C-Max hybrid will be $25,995, including shipping charges, Ford said.