Ford, Yahoo reality show to tout electric Focus this spring

NEW YORK/DETROIT, Wed Apr 11, 2012 – Ford  Motor Co. will partner with Yahoo Inc. on a reality show this spring to promote its first electric passenger car, a move that comes as the auto industry is growing more pessimistic about the prospects for these kinds of vehicles.

The show, called “Plugged In,” will be broadcast on Yahoo’s streaming video site starting in May, Ford said in a news release on Tuesday. Three two-person teams will travel to 10 major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and New York, and compete in a scavenger hunt while driving the Focus Electric.

The show is intended to help Ford reach the electric car’s target group – residents of major U.S. cities, particularly along the East and West coasts, where gasoline prices are higher than the national average. So far this year, Americans have been clamoring for more fuel-efficient vehicles as prices at the pump near $4 a gallon.

The Yahoo deal is also an example of Ford’s increasing use of social media to reach younger, more affluent consumers for less than a tenth the cost of a traditional marketing campaign. Ford declined to comment on its financial contribution to the show.

“We’re being much more targeted and building awareness of the product in a much more efficient way,” John Felice, general manager of Ford and Lincoln sales, said at a news conference at Yahoo’s New York office Tuesday.

But the second-largest U.S. automaker is launching its electric car at a time when industry analysts are expressing doubts about the near-term growth prospects of the vehicles due to their high prices and as traditional gas-powered vehicles become more fuel-efficient.

At the same time, other automakers are launching their own electric cars, making the segment more competitive. The Focus will compete with Nissan Motor Co’s. Leaf, which was introduced in Japan and the United States in December 2010. Honda Motor Co. Ltd., BMW and Fiat will join the fray, as will cars from start-ups, including Tesla Motors Inc.

Ford began production of the Focus Electric in December in Wayne, Mich., on the same assembly line as the gasoline-powered Focus, a move the automaker said gave it the flexibility to adjust to electric vehicle demand.

“It’s very difficult to get a read on what consumers’ adoption will be,” Felice said. “We just know it’s going to grow. We just don’t know how quickly.”

The Focus Electric is expected to be available in 19 U.S. markets by the end of 2012. The five-door hatchback starts at $39,200, excluding taxes and other fees. In some markets, it is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

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