C-Max Energi targets 'super commuters'
DETROIT -- With the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Ford Motor Co. is taking aim at a group of customers it calls "super commuters": traveling sales professionals and others who drive long distances in their jobs and need great fuel economy.
The C-Max Energi has a driving range of 620 miles as rated by the EPA and can go up to 21 miles on electric power only, the company said last week. It also is EPA-rated at 108 mpg-e in city driving.
What does that mean? Ford says the Energi will take customers from Chicago to Memphis or from Detroit to New York on a single tank of gasoline.
When it arrives in dealerships in December, the C-Max Energi will be the second offering in Ford's hybrid-only C-Max lineup. The gasoline-electric C-Max Hybrid is already on sale. Ford is pitching the Energi against competitors such as the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in.
The C-Max Energi will carry a sticker price of $33,745, including shipping. But customers are eligible for a federal energy tax credit of $3,750, cutting the figure to $29,995. The C-Max Hybrid, starts at $25,995.
Ford marketers call core Energi customers "optimizers," people who like to eke the most out of everything in life, including their vehicles.
They're highly educated with university degrees, often Ph.D.s, who like to research their vehicle choices carefully.
Michael O'Brien, Ford's electrification marketing manager, knows that these "optimizers" have not been traditional Ford shoppers. They've preferred Japanese brands, particularly Toyota, which dominates the hybrid segment. But O'Brien believes their research will lead them to the C-Max.
"They're information-seeking and desirous of making the most informed choice. There aren't a lot of choices in the space. We believe the optimizers are going to be enthused about finding us. We think there's a great opportunity," he says.
The C-Max enters a small field of plug-in hybrid contenders. Through August, just 31,099 plug-ins have been sold, including electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric. The segment leader, the Chevrolet Volt, accounts for about half the total, with 16,348 units. The Toyota Prius Plug-in is second with sales of 7,720.
Ford is counting on the two C-Maxes to bring new customers into Ford dealerships.
Says O'Brien: "Our assumption is about half the customers are folks in our existing showroom ready to make that next step, but about half the folks will be new to the brand."
By adding the C-Max as a hybrid-only nameplate, Ford can now attract customers who like to make an environmental statement by buying a vehicle with a distinctive design. Toyota Motor Corp. showed the way with the Prius.
Ford cites a study that says the number of people commuting more than 90 miles to work has more than doubled in the last 10 years. To help those customers get the best fuel economy throughout their drives, the Energi has an EV Mode button that allows them to choose when they want to drive most efficiently.
"You can decide whether you want EV now or EV later," says O'Brien. Because hybrid technology pays off more in city than highway driving, drivers who won't be in city traffic until later in their commutes can choose EV Later. "Our dealers are telling us they're very interested in that notion. For these super commuters, it's a neat tool to provide."
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