MONEY

Millennials Love This Old-Fashioned Company

The 2014 Ford Escape.
As millennials get older, they're more interested in SUVs and crossovers, like the 2014 Ford Escape. courtesy of Ford

You might think of Ford as the automaker your grandpa stubbornly stuck with for decades. Millennials think of Ford as something else—the auto brand they're most likely to buy right now.

It’s a common belief that millennials are indifferent to car ownership. They aren’t buying cars anywhere near the percentage rates of previous generations, and fewer young adults even bother to get drivers’ licenses. However, none of these factoids has stopped automakers from trying to win over the business of this huge demographic—which might not be flush with cash now but will surely represent a gigantic chunk of car buyers down the road.

A new study from Maritz Research shows that one automaker has been particularly successful over the past few years in appealing to millennials, and the name may come as a bit of a surprise: It’s Ford, the staid, century-old, all-American company from Michigan. According to Maritz surveys—which have been pumped up in a Ford press release—in 2008, Ford ranked fourth among millennials as the brand they’d most likely consider buying. (Honda and Toyota held the top two spots.) By 2012, however, Ford leapfrogged over the competition to grab the No. 1 ranking.

“The jump was really at the expense of the Asian-based manufacturers,” said Maritz Research vice president Chris Travell, who pointed out that General Motors has also improved in the eyes of would-be millennial car buyers. “The North American manufacturers are making better product than they ever have. You can’t say that they’re not reliable and aren’t good quality anymore.”

Millennials have taken notice. They also aren’t likely to have much memory of the auto world of decades ago, when the perception was that American cars were overpriced and would break down quicker and more often than many imports. “Millennials don’t remember the bad stuff,” said Travell. “They’re coming in as mostly clean slates. Ford is not considered the ‘old Ford’ to this generation.”

The automaker has been catching the eye of younger buyers with its focus on techie features (admittedly, not always successfully), and, most important, a lineup of vehicles and price points that appeal to their needs right now. From 2008 to 2013, more millennials became interested in crossovers and SUVs, and fewer wanted compacts and other small vehicles, which is the strength of Asian car manufacturers like Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. “The trend of millennials starting families comes at the same time Ford is updating or replacing nearly its entire product lineup,” Amy Marentic, Ford global car and crossover marketing manager, said via press release. “These fastest-growing segments—like small utilities—coincide with Ford’s product strengths.”

Ford has also actively targeted millennials and strategically pursued them as customers now and, ideally, in the future. “One thing we recognized is that millennials don’t want to be just fed information and trust it, necessarily,” said Lisa Schoder, Ford’s global small-car marketing manager, according to Forbes. “So how can we be part of their lives and inform them about our brands and products without overtly advertising to them? That has been our critical differentiator. They need to participate in experiences versus just being spoon-fed something.”

Accordingly, Ford introduced Focus Doug, a “spokespuppet” (a sock puppet, actually) in a series of online videos, and used social media in a variety of other unorthodox, irreverent ways to put vehicles like the Focus, Fiesta, and Escape on the radar of millennials. The Wall Street Journal just reported on Ford’s recent efforts to win over female customers via programs like Live.Drive.Love, which invites women to take Ford cars on 24-hour test drives.

What does reaching out to women have to do with millennials? Well, overall among car buyers, less than 4 in 10 of purchases were made by women in 2013. But among millennials, 53% of buyers are female.

Young women who are starting families or just want more space for mountain bikes and other gear are likely to be intrigued with Ford models like the Escape and Explorer. And those with less need for space, or those with simply smaller budgets will be more likely to go with the subcompact route, via the Fiesta. As Ford crowed last summer, the Fiesta has been a big success in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, and the Ford brand overall increased retail share among millennials by 80% from 2009 to 2013.

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TIME Auto

There’s Good News About Ford’s Hardcore New Truck

Ford Aluminum Pickup
An attendee looks at the Ford Motor Co. F-150 pickup truck during the Washington Auto Show in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ford’s big gamble moves into price point. Will it work?

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

One of the most closely watched automotive introductions of recent years is set to unfold as Ford Motor Co. retail dealers begin placing orders for the aluminum-body F Series pickup trucks, scheduled to arrive before year’s end.

This week Ford told dealers the retail price of the new truck will increase from $360 for entry-level models up to $3,615 for high-line luxury versions. The base model 2015 XL F-150 starts at $26,615, up $395 or 1.5% while the top-end Platinum version starts at $52,155, up $3,055, or 6.2%.

Ford is taking a big gamble on aluminum. The new trucks will be up to 700 pounds lighter to improve fuel efficiency, relying on customers’ acceptance that the metal will prove every bit as durable as steel. Ford is sailing into uncharted waters with regard to the manufacturing process, since no automaker has ever fabricated aluminum vehicle bodies at high speed.

Collision shops and dealerships have had to buy new tools and undergo training to gain expertise in repairing aluminum.

Ford so far hasn’t released fuel efficiency figures, which means that the potential savings are unclear. If the numbers are dramatic, they could attract buyers – especially those who use pickups for commercial purposes – providing an advantage for Ford over Fiat Chrysler’s Ram pickups or Chevrolet and GMC models from General Motors.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

MONEY Autos

7 Cars That Save on Gas in a Way You Won’t Believe

2013 Ford Fusion
Ford began offering auto stop-start technology as an option with the 2013 Fusion. Ford—Wieck

New research shows that funky, futuristic auto stop-start technology is a proven money saver on gas. It's available right now only in a tiny fraction of cars, but that's going to change soon.

Over the years, one urban fuel-efficiency myth has been pervasive—that you’ll save gas by letting your car idle rather than shutting the engine off when, say, waiting at the curb for someone running into a store. Popular Mechanics, AAA, and others have busted this myth, pointing out that a vehicle gets negative miles per gallon while idle. The consensus advice now is that if you car is stopped for more than a minute, the smart move is to turn the engine off.

The arrival of auto stop-start, a technology most often seen in hybrids, does this work for you, and not only if you’re idle for minute or more. As the name suggests, the tech shuts off the vehicle’s engine automatically when the car comes to a stop—at a red light, say—and then starts it again in the jiffy when the driver takes a foot off the brake pedal.

The technology has slowly been spreading beyond hybrids to a few vehicles powered by traditional internal combustion engines, and new research from AAA indicates that this is a good thing. After testing several cars with the feature, researchers concluded that the tech is a no-brainer that saves drivers 5% to 7% on gas costs annually. A blurb from the press release explains a little more about what this means to us all:

“Up to seven percent improved fuel economy can mean a $215 annual fuel savings for Southern California consumers,” says Steve Mazor, the chief automotive engineer of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center. “It also reduces the main greenhouse gas emitted from cars (CO2) by 5 to 7 percent in city driving.”

Navigant Research predicts that by 2022, 55 million cars sold annually will have stop-start technology, up from 8.8 million last year. Adoption is ahead of the curve in Europe, where gas prices are astronomical compared to much of the world: Roughly 45% of cars built in Europe already come with start-stop systems.

In the U.S., meanwhile, the stop-start feature remains an anomaly; only about 500,000 new cars sold in the U.S. in 2013 had the technology. Estimates call for that figure to shoot up to 7 million by 2022. But there’s no need to wait. The vehicles below already offer stop-start as an option or a standard feature in the U.S.:

BMW: Several BMWs have auto start-stop technology, but not all drivers are fans. “The stop-start system is just awful,” one Automotive News columnist wrote of his 2012 328i, describing the herky-jerky feeling of stepping off the brake and automatically restarting the engine as “balky” and “uncomfortable.” Drivers do have the option to turn the start-stop feature off if it’s proving to be too annoying.

Chevrolet Impala: The automaker has made stop-start technology standard on the 2015 Impala.

Chevrolet Malibu: Starting with the 2014 model year, Chevy made stop-start standard on the Malibu, which the automaker says has helped it boost fuel efficiency by 14% with city driving.

Ford Fusion: A couple of years ago, Ford introduced a stop-start system as a $295 option for the first time in the U.S. on a non-hybrid model. At the time, the automaker estimated that drivers would save $1,100 in gasoline costs over five years of driving by upgrading to stop-start. The 2015 Fusion is estimated to get an extra 3 mpg over the base model.

Ford F-150: Buyers who go for the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine on the 2015 version of Ford’s best-selling pickup get a special auto stop-start feature that’s a little different than others out there. Like other systems, this one automatically shuts off the engine as a fuel saver when the vehicle is stopped, but not when the vehicle is towing something or when it’s in four-wheel drive. Without that feature, the tech could prove frustrating for pickup drivers who are hauling something in the rear or are inching along stop-and-go on bumpy or muddy terrain. During all other driving situations, “The engine restarts in milliseconds when the brake is released,” Ford promises.

Porsche: Among the Porsche models that come with auto start-stop, the new Panamera’s system is special in that the engine not only shuts off when the vehicle is at a full stop—but it also shuts off when the car is slowing down approaching a traffic light. While the engine goes quiet, climate control, audio systems, and other interior features remain powered by the battery. And if the battery doesn’t have enough juice for all the auxiliary equipment, the engine will simply turn back on.

Ram 1500: The 2013 model year Ram truck offered start-stop technology as an option, the first in the pickup category to do so. “This new system is just one of the advances that allow the 2013 RAM 1500 to offer up to 20 percent greater fuel efficiency than previous models,” the automaker stated.

MONEY Autos

Guess How Many Top ‘American-Made’ Cars Are Japanese Brands

2012 - 2014 Toyota Camry SE
The Toyota Camry, ranked #2 on Cars.com's 2014 index of "American-made" cars. courtesy of Toyota

The Ford F-150 truck tops the list. But the rest of the top 10 is dominated by Honda and Toyota.

Cars.com just released its annual American-Made Index for cars, timed for Fourth of July week. At first glance, the list seems bizarre. Seven of the top 10 aren’t what your grandfather would think of when discussing the importance of “buying American” and yelling at you to put down your iPhone while he’s teaching you how to change the oil.

Instead, the list is dominated by Hondas and Toyotas: Numbers 2 through 6 are, respectively, the Toyota Camry, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Toyota Tundra, and Toyota Avalon. The only American brands on the list are the Ford F-150 (#1), Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (#7), and Dodge SRT Viper (#10). And while Dodge is a traditional American brand, some would argue that it, too, is not really an American company because it’s part of the newly merged Fiat Chrysler, headquartered in London.

So what gives? Well, as Cars.com explains, its index is derived partly from the “percentage of parts considered domestic under federal regulations” used in vehicles. To be considered, at least 75% of a vehicle’s parts must be domestic. Cars must also be assembled in the country, and of course be available for sale in the country, to make the cut.

Whether or not the logo on the vehicle is “American” or “foreign” doesn’t matter. Neither does the location of the automaker’s headquarters.

What the curious index brings to light is how complicated it is today for a consumer to buy truly “American-made” products of any kind—and cars in particular. What with outsourcing, globalization, and complex trade rules, we increasingly live in a world in which no single country can claim to be the sole producer of any product. A vehicle can be built with parts that originate in Mexico, be assembled in Canada, and still be considered an American product, with some legitimacy.

Edmunds.com, which released its own series of “most American” vehicle lists in May (placed in categories such as “Most American Vans and Minivans”) recently tried its darnedest to explain the complexities of automakers’ global operations, including how things like assembly location, taxes, and sales affect the final product and the company’s bottom line. It’s not easy to follow, as this example shows:

When Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. orders Tacoma pickups for U.S. distribution, it gets them from Toyota Motor Manufacturing de Baja California, a Mexican assembly plant southeast of San Diego. Toyota’s Mexican company keeps the money it receives from Toyota’s U.S. company, and the U.S. company gets its revenue by selling the trucks to franchised Toyota dealers, who then make their money from the trucks by selling them to consumers throughout the country.

If what you take away from such studies is the perception that American automobile manufacturing isn’t exactly booming of late, well, you’re not wrong. The Cars.com index is a top 10, but guess what? Only 10 cars sold in the U.S. met the minimum parameters in order to be considered eligible. A total of 13 automobiles for the 2014 model year that are sold in the U.S. are built with at least three-quarters domestic-parts content, and three of those didn’t make the grade because this is the last year they’ll be sold, after the decision was made to discontinue them. As Cars.com researchers stated, the number of vehicles that are “American-made” enough to be considered for the index has been falling year after year:

In the 2013 model year, 14 cars met that threshold. Twenty cars met the threshold in the 2012 model year, and 30 cars met it a year before that.

And if you’re looking to salvage some sort of pride in classic American auto brands from these lists, the Ford F-150 line is clearly your darling. It’s not only tops on lists from both Cars.com and Edmunds, it has also been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than three decades.

TIME Innovation

Ford President Says Aluminum F-150 Is All Engines Go

Ford

Ford says the truck will ship on time this year, despite analyst concerns that manufacturing plant retooling will impact availability.

Investment firm Morgan Stanley is publicly fretting the truck might be delayed, but Ford says its new lightweight aluminum Ford F-150 pickup is on track and we’ll see it later this year.

“Everything is on schedule and everything is going as planned,” Ford Americas President Joe Hinrichs told reporters, speaking at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan (via Automotive News), adding that he was “very confident in this vehicle.” Morgan Stanley’s analyst Ravi Shanker had said earlier that Ford’s planned factory retooling, which it has to perform in order to produce the new pickup, would result in “slow changeover, with tight supply.”

Ford has noted the planned retooling would temporarily deplete its production by over 90,000 F-Series pickups, reducing company sales and profits. Furthermore, margins are expected to be lower on the new aluminum-bodied F-150. But Ford views all of that as necessary back-stepping to be first to market with a truck that uses a combination of “military-grade aluminum and high-strength steel,” and that’ll weigh roughly 700 pounds less than the version it’s replacing.

Note that Shanker doesn’t say the launch itself is in danger of being delayed, only that supply is going to be very tight in 2014 given manufacturing constraints. If supply is at a trickle, that could mean higher demand-driven dealer pricing, of course, culminating in a scenario where the truck’s debut looks more like a paper launch, and buyers wind up having to wait to lay hands on one until supply catches up.

TIME fuel efficiency

Even Cowboys Feel Pain at the Pump: Pickups Go Green

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iStock

Macho stuff like toughness and torque is what sells trucks, right? Well, it turns out technology, comfort, and, yes, fuel economy, matter too -- even to construction workers.

In the world of pickup trucks, the advertising skews toward patriotic-themed, macho messaging focused on toughness and raw engine power. Buy this overpowered truck because it makes America great! Behind the bluster, though, are some less-muscular realities. Fuel economy, technology and comfort are what really count, even with those rugged cowboys and construction workers. That’s why pickup buyers and manufacturers are getting greener than a Boulder farmers’ market.

Like the rest of the auto industry, pickups are having a very good year, with the industry approaching unit sales of two million. One of the hotter new pickups this year is also one of the most fuel efficient. Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s 2014 model Ram 1500 EcoDiesel hit the road in February with a 3.0 liter, V-6 engine that sports a 28 mpg highway rating. FCA says the fuel rating is the best ever achieved by a full-size, half-ton pickup—the most popular version. “We are churning sales, “says Bob Lee, the head of Chrysler’s power train division. “In eight days [on the lot] they are gone. It’s moving incredibly fast.” That’s one reason Ram sales were up 17% in May, as Chrysler continues to gain share in the category.

GALLERY: Meet the new, greener pickup trucks

The company says that about half the buyers of new 1500s are opting for the EcoDiesel version. That’s an amazing stat given that Americans have never cottoned to diesels on anything other than heavy-duty trucks. But they do favor fuel efficiency with gasoline around $3.65 a gallon nationally. At Ford, the company reports that 42% of retail buyers are choosing F-150s with its 3.5 liter EcoBoost V-6, which gets 22 mpg. At General Motors, the company has added bi-fuel capability to all of its heavy-duty 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and 3500HD, which allow customers to use compressed natural gas (CNG). Chevy says that will save them $2,000 a year in fuel costs for a vehicle driven 26,000 annually, based on current fuel prices. Ride on, you CNG cowboys.

Chrysler’s decision to develop a diesel for its smaller pickups started in 2005 when the company undertook an exercise to document where all the energy was going in the large 4.7 liter engine that powered many of its pickups. “The diesel showed up early and that was where you could have a big gain [in efficiency],” says Lee. The company also went to work on aerodynamics, and even the axel, which was sucking up 8% of the energy.

Diesels are more efficient than gas-powered cars but potentially dirtier, making the technology challenge a lot tougher. “The injection pressures are high, tolerances are tight and in the U.S., onboard diagnostics are extremely complicated,” says Lee. More importantly Chrysler’s aim was to pass muster with California’s strict regulations. “California wants to make sure the technology works.” It did.

Ford meanwhile, has been working on a technical challenge of its own. Later this year the company will introduce a new F-150 which, as newly named CEO Mark Fields modestly claims, “redefines the future of trucks” in that it will feature greater use of high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloys in the body. That, along with more high-strength steel in the frame, allowed Ford to lower the vehicle weight by some 700 lbs. Shedding weight will improve fuel economy and acceleration, but it also allows the company to equip the pickup with a new, smaller 2.7-liter EcoBoost with auto Start-Stop. That also enhances fuel economy.

The F-150 is so important to Ford—it is one of the company’s iconic products and the industry’s best seller– that it can’t afford to produce anything that’s less than outstanding. The company says that more than 100 new patents are part of the F-150’s redesign. Ford has even overhauled the pickup’s badge, taking the hyphen out of F-150—now it’s F150—which the company says “adds to the message of efficiency.” Wonder if the hyphen is available as an option.

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