DETROIT – Marketing the quirky ’09 Ford Flex cross/utility vehicle will pose challenges for the auto maker similar to that faced by Scion with the xB in 2004.

“You have to find what’s authentic and talk about it,” says Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co. group vice president-marketing and communications, who oversaw the launch of the Scion brand while working for Toyota Motor Corp.

With the current onslaught of CUVs hitting the market, Farley says cutting through the clutter is difficult. However, the unorthodox styling of the Flex should resonate with consumers and help it stand out in a crowd.

“When you develop that type of product, it needs to be something where people say, ‘Ooh, I love it.’ You really do need that, in the people mover space especially,” he says on the sidelines of the auto show here.

CUVs have the “kind of design architecture silhouette (that is) becoming very familiar, almost like SUVs were 10 years ago, and to have something with a unique silhouette like (the Flex) is really a big deal.”

Farley also is faced with addressing consumer demand for better fuel economy and greater ecological stewardship. Add in a corporate average fuel economy mandate calling for 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) by 2020, and marketing a less-than-aerodynamic-looking vehicle such as the Flex becomes even more complex.

Despite the boxy look, the vehicle’s aerodynamic properties are sound, Farley maintains. “With the new CAFE regulations, there’s so much focus on aero,” he says. “The great thing about the aero package on (the) Flex is that it’s very competitive. It doesn’t look like it; it seems so formal.”

Additionally, the Flex is slated to receive a version of Ford’s EcoBoost engine technology that combines turbocharging with direct-injection to provide superior fuel economy without sacrificing performance, which should assist Farley in his task.

Farley says he has met with many Ford dealers, who have responded positively to the Flex. “They see it as a new add to the fleet that they (currently) don’t sell. It should generate natural traffic.”

The Flex also is expected to attract customers looking to trade in traditional body-on-frame SUVs.

bpope@wardsauto.com