FORD 1-2 PUNCH LEADS DETROIT SPORTY-CAR RESURGENCE

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The small sporty car segment is a microcosm of Detroit's rebounding strength and Japanese auto makers' struggles.

The hot new products came from the domestic automakers in 1993. Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division got a big boost in Probe sales after it redesigned that car for the 1993 model year. Then, in November, Ford kicked off an estimated $40 million ad blitz for the redesigned Mustang, the segment leader.

The Mustang campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, emphasizes how styling cues on the original 19641/2 Mustang were brought back and updated for '94-while adding modern performance and safety features. "It is what it was and more," says the advertising.

And it worked. In December, Ford sold 11,201 Mustangs, a 130.4% increase from the same month in 1992, boosting the automaker's hopes to eventually sell 140,000 Mustangs a year.

Ford splits the segment by targeting the Mustang at traditional American "high torque" lovers, while the Probe is pitched more at import-leaning "high-tech" buyers. Ford marketing and advertising capitalized on Probe winning Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 1993.

The other two big winners in the small sporty segment are Chevrolet and Pontiac, two General Motors Corp. divisions that benefited from redesigned products.

Chevrolet rolled out the Camaro in the spring with a campaign positioning the car as being as American as rock 'n' roll. Advertising, created by Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., also focused on the base price of $13,399 and new standard features such as dual air bags and antilock brakes.

Pontiac used an unusual challenge in August to introduce its redesigned Firebird. The ad challenged other automakers to meet the Formula's performance and safety features at any price up to double its $17,995 price.

The other major players in this highly competitive segment either eked out small gains or fell back. While the domestic marketers took advantage of improved quality and a surge in "buy American" sentiment, the Japanese marketers were forced into significant price increases by

the increased value of the yen against the U.S. dollar.

Toyota lost ground with both its Paseo, aimed at younger buyers, and also its more upscale Celica, although the introduction of a redesigned Celica in the fall seemed to stem that car's slide.

The decline of the Prelude underscored the difficulties facing the Honda brand, overtaken by Nissan in the battle for second place among Japanese brands, behind Toyota. With a 37.5% drop in sales, the Prelude slid from eighth place to 13th.

However, American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura brand had success with a redesigned Integra, introduced in July with two different campaigns from Ketchum Advertising, Los Angeles.

One campaign, aimed at young baby boomers, shows the car running on a giant Hot Wheels track. A second campaign, featuring a sardonic cartoon dog, targets Generation X customers.

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