Off to a slow start

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Early sales of Ford's Five Hundred, key to what the company called its biggest new-product blitz ever, haven't been stellar. The automaker sold 5,401 of the sedans in January, fewer than the 5,730 it sold in December. Since it was introduced last fall, the Five Hundred sold a total of 14,106, off pace from the 100,000 to 120,000 it expects to sell annually.

Wes Brown, an analyst at auto consultancy Iceology, isn't impressed with the Five Hundred's early showing. But he noted it is selling sans incentives and isn't yet going into fleet. "The person who shops the domestics expects incentives, so they may be waiting" for deals on the car, which Detroit has conditioned them to do.

He cautions not to write off the Five Hundred. "If anyone can move product, it's Ford," he said, citing the division's powerful dealer body of nearly 4,000 U.S. retailers. The Five Hundred is also one of the models falling under Ford's plan to keep the heat on in marketing. The automaker hiked its budget by 50% in the fourth and first quarters. WPP Group's JWT, Detroit, handles.

Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI, is betting on the Ford Five Hundred. "I think people will be surprised by how well it does." Also bullish is John Casesa, auto analyst at Merrill Lynch. He said that despite criticism about he car's conservative styling, it's priced competitively, which bodes well for sales momentum.

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