The new Ford Focus will be another high-volume car from Detroit; eventually, about 350,000 will be produced annually.
But Ford won't pitch the Focus as a mass-produced car. Ford will offer a Pet Package, complete with leash and water dish. Also available soon: sports, professional and other packages with many accessories.
'While everyone can own a Focus, no two cars have to look exactly alike,' said Julie Roehm, brand manager of the Focus. 'We don't believe in the one-size-fits-all theory. Young people really define themselves, and they don't conform to the masses. So we need to be able to offer them alternatives and a choice.'
Welcome to Ford's push into mass customization. Ford and other automakers have seized on accessories as a fresh way to squeeze more profit out of auto sales.
They are driven by two main trends: Sticker prices on new vehicles are flat, so automakers are looking for other sources of revenue. And customers, particularly young ones, increasingly shun conformity and are eager to customize their wheels.
'You get all the efficiencies of scale when you take a mass product and customize it with the individualized appeal of a custom-made product,' said Jay Houghton, automotive account director at the Troy, Mich., office of Oracle Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif.
MARKETING TO LIFESTYLES
The Focus packages are prime examples of the industry trying to differentiate vehicles in a crowded, look-alike market, said Jim Mateyka, vice president of the automotive practice at A.T. Kearney Inc., a consultant firm in Chicago. The key, he said, is to target subsets of consumers based on their lifestyles.
The industry is scrambling to gather more data about consumers, their lifestyles and other products they buy, he said. 'There's a surge to try to collect more detailed customer information and really know your customers well and what they like to do in their spare time,' Mateyka said.
That kind of research was impossible before the current information age with computerized databases, said Oracle's Houghton. 'You could not have done one-to-one marketing or mass customization without the efficient management of customer information at the individual level,' he said.
Ford's move into mass customization comes as it simplifies its manufacturing and ordering. Ford is offering fewer factory option packages and fewer stand-alone options - while it cranks up its add-on accessory lines.
Ford started cutting trim levels on 1998 cars when it launched the Escort ZX2 in the spring of 1997. Only two trim levels were offered on the coupe. That fall, the company offered fewer trim levels on most Ford and Mercury cars. The move also helped cut consumer confusion on overlapping prices for different nameplates.
Ford's top executives are pushing the move to mass customization. But they declined comment via a spokeswoman.
FORD IS ACTIVE
Like most of the major industry players, Ford has sold aftermarket parts and accessories for many years. Ford says it now gets $250 million, or 13 percent, of the $1.9 billion spent each year on accessories for Ford Division vehicles. Neither Toyota or Honda are major players; DaimlerChrysler gets $400 million a year from its Mopar accessory operation. (See story on Page 40.)
General Motors Service Parts Operations, which sells accessories, said it does not break out its annual revenue in that category.
'We are aggressively going after accessories,' said J.C. Collins, Ford Division brand manager for sport-utilities and the Windstar minivan. 'It's a huge business and we don't get our fair share. We,'re getting more business for our dealers.'
In its effort to do that, Ford Division has combined all its sport-utility accessories into one catalog for the 2000 model year. New items are being added to the first Outfitters catalog. The Outfitters' theme for Ford sport-utilities also is used in advertising and in the showroom.
MY PLACE OR YOURS?
The company is testing an accessory program at dealerships in seven cities. Ford is creating a network of companies to install authorized accessories at Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships.
In some cases, mobile units will install accessories at a customer's home or office. By the end of the year, Ford hopes to operate the program in the top 66 markets that represent 85 percent of its sales.
Larry Wind, a Ford dealer in the Pittsburgh pilot market, said new Ford buyers usually go to aftermarket companies to buy accessories. He said if he could increase business in that segment, it would boost profit and save customers the time and hassle of going elsewhere.
Generation Y, the children of baby boomers, are sparking the push into auto customization, said Wes Brown, a consultant with Nextrend, an auto consumer research firm in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Those young people grew up with technology like computers and cable TV and they are used to customized products.
The fact that Generation Y is leading the charge does not discount the role of baby boomers. 'If their kids tell them it's cool to have a red interior, they will hop on that trend,' Brown said.
Dodge dealer Rob Robbins in Garden City, Mich., said young men and women are more likely to buy accessories from him to make their vehicles look more distinctive. Older people are more likely to buy more utilitarian items such as bedliners for pickups.
Industry sales of aftermarket goodies to customize vehicles have risen dramatically in the past five years, according to Carl Sheffer, vice president of manufacturer relations at the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade group in Diamond Bar, Calif.
Sheffer said SEMA research shows the industry's total retail sales have risen every year since 1994 and reached $21.3 billion last year.
He cited the increased popularity of trucks and sport-utilities as the major factor in the growth.
HOGS TEACH FORD
On the truck side, Ford Division figures it can learn a thing or two from Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Ford will sell special accessories when it starts selling a limited-edition, Harley-Davidson F-150 pickup next spring as part of a five-year partnership.
'It will be a single-spec truck with very few options,' said George Magro, program manager at Ford's Truck Vehicle Center and liaison between the two companies. 'Our intention as we mature the relationship is to have a litany of things dealers can use to customize not only the Harley F-150, but other Ford vehicles.'
Ford will build just under 10,000 Harley F-150s for the 2000 model year. The truck models will change every year to emphasize their exclusivity, Magro said. He added that Ford is working with Harley officials on a list of accessories for the pickup. The Ford Customer Service Division will then find suppliers.
Harley's annual revenue is divided roughly into thirds - motorcycle sales, branded merchandise and parts plus accessories, said Don Brown, president of DJB Associates LLC, an industry analyst in Irvine, Calif.
'Harley has been extremely successful at customization,' said Brown. 'You get a Harley, then you customize it to make it your own.'