Maverick makes Ford’s carless strategy add up

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Three years ago, Ford decided to go carless, announcing a dramatic plan to stop making everything but the Mustang and invest in other kinds of vehicles. Theoretically, it made some sense. Consumers want crossovers, SUVs and trucks, not sedans and hatchbacks. But it wasn’t clear how, exactly, the company intended to replace its cars. With the reveal of the 2022 Maverick and a bit of hindsight, Ford’s strategy is taking shape.

The Maverick is a small pickup truck that will be priced affordably, starting at $21,490. It looks cool, a little like the Bronco Sport with a bed, and could bring Ford new and younger buyers. Its capabilities are relatively modest for a pickup, but still reasonable for what many people will need. Don’t think of the Maverick as a smaller Ranger or F-150. Rather, the Maverick replaces the Focus.

Does a lightbulb go off? Ford obviously never gave up on entry-level car buyers, but the Maverick shows how the company can reach them in a different way. Ford even compared the Maverick to the Honda Civic for fuel efficiency in touting the pickup’s attributes.

“Maverick seems to be a very shrewd and well-thought-out entry-level product for Ford, and it certainly has the potential to really shake up the entry-level end of the market,” Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis for AutoPacific, told Autoblog.

The Maverick has a chance to be a trendsetter. It’s a hybrid that gets 37 mpg (combined) and an impressive 40 mpg in the city. It can tow 2,000 pounds. The optional turbocharged engine with 250 horsepower promises to be spritely to drive and can pull 4,000 pounds with the tow pack.

“By launching Maverick at a price rivaling boring compact sedans, Ford now has a very intriguing ... product in a body style that is very aspirational,” Kim said in an email. “Sure, it doesn’t have the capability of its larger Ranger and F-Series siblings, but it’s surprisingly capable for what it is, and the strong Ford Truck brand image will surely lend some truck credibility to the Maverick.”

Ford is pitching the truck as an affordable option for 20- and 30-somethings, empty nesters or basically anyone who wants a modestly-sized ride. Think Bronco Sport or Subaru Crosstrek buyer. The former might have bought a Focus, the latter almost certainly wouldn’t. The Maverick might snare a few former Fusion buyers, too. While it’s logical some value-seeking buyers went for Ford’s small crossovers, the Escape or Bronco Sport, those are more expensive than the Focus.

Strategies are great, but Ford’s didn’t make a lot of sense back in the spring of ‘18 on the surface. It appeared to be a severe move that would voluntarily give up market share to prove a theoretical point. The messaging didn’t help, as mainstream media didn’t always pick up on the nuance that Ford would be replacing its cars with similar-sized vehicles and EVs, not simply pumping money into gas-guzzling SUVs.

It was a move that came under former Ford CEO Jim Hackett, but his successor, Jim Farley, has proven to be better at showcasing Ford's products and technologies as agents of change.

Though Ford faced a lot of negative publicity for dropping most of its cars, General Motors, Stellantis and most recently Mazda have phased out some or all of their traditional sedans. In hindsight, much of Ford’s car culling would likely have happened anyway. The Fiesta and Taurus were aging products and populated segments where car buyers were in fact leaving. The Focus and Fusion were marginally better, but were not best-in-class and would have required considerable investment to move up in the pecking order.

Expectations and communications are important, but execution ultimately is what matters. And if Ford launches and sells the Maverick successfully, it will have proved doubters wrong and have a leg up on some of its rivals.

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