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Old 07-21-2005, 12:19 PM   #1
Levi
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SVT boosts Ford's image

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At a time when competition between car companies is fierce, industry analysts say image is everything.

And nothing helps to bolster a company's image more than an eye-catching, high-performance vehicle, according to Jim Hall, vice president of Industry Analysis for Auto Pacific.

"Every Mustang that goes down the road is an advertisement for Ford," he said. "It's hard not to see a new Mustang in traffic. And the Ford Shelby GT500 is going to be that on steroids."

The GT500, which will be released next summer, is the newest entry from Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT). Since its inception in 1993, SVT has sold more than 145,000 performance vehicles, including the Mustang Cobra, Mustang Cobra R, F-150 Lightning, SVT Contour and SVT Focus.

While SVT products add to the company's bottom line, Hau Thai-Tang, director of Advanced Product Creation and SVT, agrees that their true value extends beyond direct profits.

"SVT high-performance products improve the company's image and create a halo effect for the rest of the Ford lineup," he said.

Randy Anderson of Anderson Ford in Clinton, Ill., is a performance enthusiast and an SVT dealer. He says his dealership has seen an increase in other vehicle sales as a result of SVT products.


Left: Shelby GT500 next to a 2005 Mustang GT.

"We have had a lot of new-to-Ford customers who bought SVT products from us and then came back down the road and bought an Explorer or Expedition or other Ford vehicle," he said. "It's been phenomenal. SVT had more front-page coverage in magazines like Car and Driver and Road and Track than we've had in history."

According to Mickey Matus, product marketing manager for SVT, the reason SVT has been so successful is because of the way it caters to performance enthusiasts -- car buyers who are widely regarded as being very influential in the marketplace and who fuel the most effective form of advertising: positive feedback.

"They are very vocal, highly-visible buyers. They are our army of loyal and passionate advocates out there," said Matus. "What differentiates SVT from the performance arms of General Motors and DaimlerChrysler is the quality and sincerity of the relationships we build with our customers."

Thai-Tang calls it the Total Performance Experience.

"The experience extends beyond just products," said Thai-Tang. "It includes an enhanced sales and service experience to meet discriminating demands of enthusiast customers. It also includes the SVT Owner's Association, which organizes club shows and track events."

By creating an atmosphere of exclusivity through special shows, events and promotions, SVT aims to attract performance enthusiasts and ultimately gain their loyalty to the Ford brand. SVT also staffs an information center (1-800-FORD-SVT) so that car buyers can call and get knowledgeable answers to their questions from fellow enthusiasts.

"We don't want 15 minutes of fame," he said. "Just like Ford is a family company, we're bringing enthusiasts in and making them part of our family."

Anderson says everyone on his staff -- from the sales representatives and service technicians to the phone staff -- has received specialized SVT training.
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