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March sales reports produced a landmark for Ford Windstar-it unseated the Dodge Caravan as the top-selling minivan.

Just to prove it was no fluke, Windstar did it again this April, a credit to the aggressive marketing plan devised by Steve Lyons, 47, general marketing manager at Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division.

After Windstar's introduction in spring '94, it took a year of steadily building momentum to get to the top. Chrysler, with 44.9% of minivan sales in 1993, was the target.

"We set up our marketing to target [Chrysler's] customer base-primar ily females, young families and families with older children," Mr. Lyons says. "But we didn't necessarily go after their [minivan] owners, because 75% of minivan sales are to people who haven't owned one before."

Ford also projected that there was room for the minivan segment to grow. Indeed, the debut of Windstar helped expand the total business by 11% in 1994, to 1,265,345 units. Windstar itself accounted for nearly 10% of that with 123,924 units sold.

Ford's estimated $60 million introductory ad effort from J. Walter Thompson USA focused on claims of safety and attributes such as the most cargo space of any minivan. "The future of minivans begins today" was the theme of TV, print and direct mail.

To generate test drives, Ford enclosed business reply cards and ran an 800 telephone number along with ads that appeared in 50 million copies of 17 magazines.

Key to Ford's success was a pair of early meetings that provided dealers from across the country with briefings on both the Windstar and Chrysler's competing minivans. And the competition was worried; in the months before Windstar's debut, Chrysler tried to soak up minivan demand with a rare $500 rebate and up to $2,100 in discounts on options.

While that may have slowed Windstar's climb, it didn't stop it. "My marketing philosophy is you really can't blunt the launch of a new product if it's pretty good and there's enough money behind it," Mr. Lyons says.

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