DETROIT - Few sport-utility owners drive off-road. But many are willing to brave snowy roads to reach ski slopes.
So Ford Division is trying a one-year sponsorship of a ski competition that showcases well-known names from the downhill-racing world.
Ford research revealed the link between sport-utility owners and ski enthusiasts.
'When we ask SUV owners, 'What do you do?' skiing is one of the top responses,' said J.C. Collins, Ford Division SUV group brand manager. 'It is an activity SUV buyers both participate in and watch on television.
'We're looking at this as a way to build our brand and to associate the Ford Explorer and the Ford Expedition with skiing as an activity,' Collins said.
Collins would not detail the percentage of sport-utility owners who also are ski buffs. But ski enthusiasts and SUV customers fit the same demographic profile: relatively upscale people who are 35 to 45 years old and raising a family, he said.
The link between skiing and the ability of sport-utilities to handle snowy, rugged terrain is a natural marketing fit, Collins said. 'Skiing is a great family sport,' he said. 'That is what SUVs are all about, taking the gear and the whole family and going off.'
Ford will measure the TV broadcast ratings for the Ford Downhill Series before extending its sponsorship, Collins said.
The series, which includes five races in the United States through March, features big names from international skiing, including Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe and World Cup Champion Luc Alphand of France. The 6-year-old series was formerly called the King of the Mountain.
Two races will be broadcast on NBC, two will air on the Fox network and one will be syndicated. Collins would not disclose Ford Division's investment in the sponsorship.
Ford Division dealer associations in Denver, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco - sites of the races - are promoting special consumer events and featuring the sponsorship in advertising.
Ford will display vehicles at the race sites, will exhibit concept vehicles at certain locations and will present winners with Ford Explorers. Prize money totals $500,000.