Ford fires a salvo at Camry and Accord

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DETROIT -- In introducing the 2013 Ford Fusion mid-sized sedan at the Detroit auto show, Ford fired a blistering shot right across the bow of its competitors: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

As suspenseful, digital music thrummed in a darkened auditorium at Joe Louis Arena just prior to the unveiling of the Fusion to hundreds of global reporters, a man's voice reminded a roomful of journalists about the recent woes of the Camry and Accord, traditionally the top-selling mid-sized sedans in the U.S.

For most of the past decade, the voice intoned, the two stood above all others in providing customers in the segment what they most valued: reliability and affordability, garnering 15 to 20 percent of the market each.

"And then something changed," the voice said. "Their sales volumes and market share leveled off in 2008. When the recession hit, they plummeted along with the rest of the industry. What you might not realize is that Camry and Accord never recovered. They saw further sales and share losses more than a year before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Camry sales in 2010 dipped 31 percent from their 2007 peak. Accord sales dropped 28 percent during the same period. This slide has continued even with triple-digit increases in incentive spending. What's driving this?"

2013 competition heats up: Ford is targeting Toyota and Honda with it's 2013 Fusion. Toyota answered the challenge with a billboard near the Detroit auto show venue.

Photo credit: MARK RECHTIN

The competition has gotten tougher, and today's customers are demanding more, including excellent fuel economy, the voice explained before delivering a back-handed slap at the Camry and Accord.

"Now these consumers say they're looking for products they say they can be proud to own. Forty-three percent of customers who turn in a car and buy a mid-size sedan say they just want something different. Reliable, affordable and different. The company that unlocks the formula for that mix could change the market all over again."

Obviously, Ford believes it has that magic formula with the sleek new 2013 Fusion. Asked about the aggressive, competitive broadside at two of his biggest rivals, Ford CEO Alan Mulally gave a Cheshire cat grin and said: "We just want to help everybody to understand they have great choices with Ford."

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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