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Is Ford's Flex too much too late?

At a time when escalating fuel prices are forcing people to curtail summer road trips, is the Ford Flex just too big?

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At a time when escalating fuel prices are forcing people to curtail summer road trips, is the Ford Flex just too big?

Carlos Gomes, Scotiabank’s senior economist and auto industry analyst, thinks the weakening U.S. economy and rising fuel prices may finally be putting the brakes on the crossover segment, which has seen amazing sales growth in the past few years.

“In the U.S., for the first time in April … most SUV and crossover sales declined.”

Ford says the Flex is like no other vehicle on the road today. But in reality, it’s a new model entering a cluttered market segment in which seemingly every automaker except Ferrari (for now) has already staked a claim.

“Flex is a very attractive alternative to Ford’s more traditional SUVs,” says auto analyst John Casesa, managing partner of the Casesa Shapiro Group in New York.

“But Ford has very little credibility in the crossover segment, one where customers want smaller vehicles.”

The brand new Flex may be competitively priced, but these days any vehicle larger than a compact is getting pummelled in the used car market.

Based on his preliminary work, John Bailey, with the Canadian Black Book, says he sees the Flex performing stronger than the Explorer at trade-in time.

“We are somewhat bullish on (the) Flex outperforming the Ford brand overall, but not quite to the Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander level. (It’s) a step in the right direction.”

Bailey says that he thinks residual values of large crossovers like the Flex will be hurt by fuel price, but to a lesser degree than SUVs like the Explorer or Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The other challenge for Ford is making people aware of the Flex, especially since even the keenest shopper may already be aware of Ford’s former Freestyle and existing Taurus X.

Casesa says typical of the situation at Ford – and at General Motors and Chrysler as well – even if the product is competitive, Ford will have to spend more on advertising and marketing to get people into showrooms.

Just how much, we’ll find out starting in a few weeks.

That’s when the 2009 Ford Flex goes on sale in showrooms across Canada.

–John LeBlanc

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