Ford Motor Co. wants to use social networking sites such as Facebook to generate buzz for its new Fiesta subcompact. But it will rely on company outsiders to get the early word out.
Even though the Fiesta doesnt go on sale in the United States until early next year, Ford is putting the car in the hands of 100 Internet-savvy consumers for long-term test drives beginning in April.
The consumers, who will be chosen after applying at www.fiestamovement.com, will then relate their experiences through social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
Its one thing to talk about the vehicle, but its another to put people into it and let them experience it, Connie Fontaine, Fords brand content and alliances manager, said in a statement today.
Ford is betting that people who get an early hands-on opportunity to drive the car will promote excitement about the Fiesta while also providing feedback to Fords engineering team, Fontaine said. Fiesta agents will be asked to complete monthly missions, capture their experiences digitally and share them with Ford and other consumers.
Ford marketing chief Jim Farley has said that the automaker needs time to prepare U.S. customers for the Fiesta, which will be Fords smallest vehicle sold in North America since the Aspire was discontinued in 1997. The Fiesta, which is smaller than a Ford Focus, will be sold in both sedan and hatchback variants.
In addition to the long-term testers, Ford has said it also intends to put 100,000 people nationwide behind the wheel of a Fiesta for one-time drives by the end of 2009.
Ford isnt yet revealing a sales target for the U.S. Fiesta. Farley has said demand could be anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 units annually, but that sales volume largely will be determined by the price of gasoline.
Fiesta is a much bigger seller in Europe, where the sixth-generation edition went on sale last August. Since then, Ford has sold more than 89,000 units in its main 19 European markets.
The 100 five-door Fiesta hatchbacks being used for the long-term testing program were built in Fords factory in Cologne, Germany. The cars are powered by a 120-hp, 1.6-liter gasoline engine.
Ford will build Fiestas for North American sale in its Cuautitlan plant in central Mexico.
The Fiesta is the first assault in Ford CEO Alan Mulallys plan to sell global cars. In addition to Mexico, Ford will begin producing the Fiesta in Thailand in 2010. It already builds the Fiesta at plants in Germany, Spain and China.