O&M, Y&R battle for Ford's European Puma launch

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LONDON -- Ford Motor Company is talking to roster agencies Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam for the estimated $15m launch campaign of the Puma, its first low-volume European niche vehicle.

Speculation is that next week will see a decision on the agency and on whether to run a pan-European campaign or local work. But Ford Europe would only comment: "We are still at the discussions stage and can't say what we'll be doing."

The Puma, which will go on sale in Germany this October, priced at around $18,700, debuts in Geneva next week as the chief rival to Opel's successful Tigra coupe.

Ford has resisted niche cars until now, expanding its range with safer alternatives like station wagons, convertibles or imports of U.S.-made specialty cars like the Probe coupe and Explorer sport utility.

But the new Ford strategy is to make more products from fewer platforms. The Fiesta platform is already the base for the new Ka, a high-volume city car. Now Puma is the first of niche vehicles off the platform. At just 3.9m, it is one of the smallest Ford coupes ever.

A convertible version could arrive in 1999, which would be closer to the Lynx concept car - the spiritual source for the Puma as well. The Lynx debuted at Geneva last year.

The swoopy exterior reflects Ford's New Edge design philosophy. Key styling features are oversized headlights and a wild belt line along the side of the body which helps accentuate its overall length.

Puma production will begin in May at the Cologne factory that also makes the Fiesta. Final production numbers are still being hammered out.

"Puma is a visible symbol of all the driver-oriented strengths that we're now building into our cars," says Richard Parry-Jones, vice president of Ford's development center for small and medium-sized vehicles.

Opel had considered a roadster version of the Tigra but killed the project because of economics. Some insiders say that was a mistake as Tigra sales have far exceeded Opel's highest targets and the forecast numbers for the open-air car were probably too low.

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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