Special Coverage

2011 Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – Jim Farley is keeping one eye on gasoline prices and another on a surging rival from Korea as 2011 unfolds.

Farley, Ford’s group vice president-global marketing, tells the Midwest Automotive Media Assn. here he is optimistic about the U.S. market this year but wary of prices at the pump.

“Consumers are back spending again on a variety of things and consumer confidence is now at 60%, the highest level it's been at in three years,” he says at a Chicago Auto Show kickoff breakfast today.

But even though gas prices “aren’t a problem yet, (they) could be,” he adds. “In 2008, gas prices rose quickly overnight. Now they've been rising at a much slower rate.

“But it's not a matter of if gas prices reach $4 to $5 a gallon but when, though we are prepared now with electric vehicles and Ecoboost engines and higher-mileage vehicles when they do.”

Farley says Ford also is paying more attention to Hyundai, which wins the “Family Car of the Year” award given by MAMA at the show for its Sonata midsize sedan.

“I'm impressed with (the) Sonata and new Elantra,” Farley admits. “It was Ford and the South Koreans who grew last year.

“We've focused attention on the South Koreans for a while,” he continues. “South Korean cars are already better than those from Toyota. They've executed new product very well and have very well-designed, fuel-efficient, affordable vehicles that have been more successful than other imports from Toyota and Honda.”

Farley brushes off new competition for the Ford Mustang in the form of the Chevrolet Camaro convertible that reaches U.S. showrooms in March.

“They are getting a convertible; we've always had one,” he says. “Traditionally, sports cars have 18 to 24 months of glory before demand is challenged. But we figure you have to watch how a car performs over six years, not just 18-24 months, which is why we plan to continually reinvent Mustang to create interest.”

Ford’s social-marketing push, seen here with the unveiling of the auto maker’s “Go Do” campaign that gives consumers the chance to live out their travel fantasies in a new Explorer SUV and drive a new ʼ12 Focus through Europe, is a means of “getting noticed, trusted and respected among consumers,” Farley says.

More attention is being paid to social media as a marketing tool because “it often has been said it makes your message more authentic and builds trust in your company. People trust what friends and neighbors say more than what (an auto company) says.’

The drawback? “People can say whatever they want,” he notes.

The industry will spend about $5 billion in Internet advertising globally by 2014, Farley says.