Ford gives Flex wagon a push

Despite apparent slow initial sales, Ford says prospects for the Oakville-made Flex crossover wagon remain strong.

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DETROIT – Despite apparent slow initial sales, Ford says prospects for the Oakville-made Flex crossover wagon remain strong.

David Mondragon, president and chief executive officer for Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., said at the North American International Auto Show here yesterday that he expects sales of the vehicle will continue climbing as the impact of the second phase of a marketing campaign is rolled out.

The remarks come after the sales chief of parent Ford Motor Co. acknowledged sales of the Flex, a key vehicle in the company’s rejuvenation plans, may not have met expectations in the first few months in showrooms.

Mondragon said in an interview at the auto show in Detroit that the company launched the unique-looking family vehicle in the second half of last year with an “awareness” campaign and now is proceeding to marketing that emphasizes the Flex’s features, benefits and fuel economy.

“It was a strong launch,” he said. “Now we’ve moved to a second phase that shows a vehicle with multi-purposes.

“After awareness, you build consideration.”

Mondragon noted monthly sales in Canada have climbed steadily, from 259 in September to 370 in December, despite a huge drop in overall industry sales in Canada and the United States.

“You can see sales are starting to grow,” he said. “It’s a direct result of the second phase (of marketing).”

Ford sold 2,134 Flex models in the second half of the year while U.S. deliveries totalled 14,457.

Ford had originally projected annual sales of about 100,000 for the Flex, which has three rows of seats, a low look and a spacious interior.

The vehicle, which was originally described as the company’s “people mover,” replaced the Freestar minivan, whose sales slid dramatically earlier this decade.

The company had also built the Freestar exclusively in Oakville.

In October, Jim Farley, the parent company’s vice-president of marketing and communications, said the vehicle might not have met preliminary internal projections and marketing would change to explain its functional benefits.

Farley noted that one reason for a slow start was that half of the buyers are new to Ford.

At the Oakville plant, which also makes the Edge and luxury Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles, workers had produced about 37,000 Flex models by the end of November.

Reports said slow sales of the three vehicles prompted Ford to cancel a third shift in Oakville. But Ford spokesperson Lauren More said yesterday the company didn’t proceed with the shift because of worsening industry conditions in the U.S.

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