DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. marketers know they have a challenge on their hands trying to sell the 2010 Taurus.
The design is sharp, and the re-engineered and restyled Taurus is packed with technology features. But the car's name "has become synonymous with a boring car," said Matt VanDyke, Ford's U.S. marketing communications director.
Fewer than half of prospective car buyers have a favorable opinion of the Taurus, he said. Consumer perception is a hangover from the years when Ford itself thought little of the Taurus and let the once-vaunted nameplate languish in rental-car fleets before killing it off entirely.
CEO Alan Mulally, who studied the early success of the Taurus when he worked at Boeing, revived the car by renaming the old Five Hundred. But Ford hasn't been able to convince customers that it's a winner. Sales in 2008 were 52,667 -- a far cry from the days when the Taurus was America's best-selling car.
With the 2010 model now shipping to dealerships, Ford will use football and the Web to try to convince a new set of consumers that the Taurus is not the stodgy car they remember. Ads begin this week. Ford wouldn't disclose dollar amounts but said the Taurus and the 2010 Fusion have the company's highest ad budgets this year.
The Taurus' base price of $25,995, including shipping, remains the same -- though the car can top $40,000 when loaded. Ford is aiming for a cooler, younger audience with the Taurus. Its target customer is a 46-year-old man who likes technology. The age of today's average Taurus buyer is 55.
Taurus will have a high profile on sports broadcasts such as National Football League games. Commercials -- which will be the first national Taurus ads in two years -- will focus on the Taurus' technology offerings, such as a blind spot warning system and the twin-turbocharged, 365-hp, 3.5-liter engine in the SHO performance model. Several Web videos pit features of the Taurus against those of luxury brands such as Lexus and Audi.
But, VanDyke said, "We're not positioning it as a luxury car." Those 46-year-old men still want a good value.