The Focus FlexiFuel Vehicle (FFV) was billed as an ‘everyday’ car which could deliver 70% fewer CO2 emissions, run seamlessly on any mixture of renewable bioethanol or conventional petrol – and all at a marginal cost over the equivalent petrol car.
Already the country’s best-selling car, the Focus FFV arrived in Ireland with a new USP (advice what is USP) of particular relevance to an agricultural community in need of future outlets for their products.
The task was to launching the Ford Focus biofuel car in Ireland with the following objectives: The primary brand objective for the Focus FFV was to recover, through awareness, ground lost to its biggest single competitor (Toyota), which was already occupying the environmental high ground. The farming community was also a key target.
A secondary brand objective for the Agency was to create, through awareness, a platform for the commercial introduction of an entirely different kind of car to the Irish marketplace.
A specific commercial objective was to achieve an attractive price for the Focus FFV, if the car was to succeed. The Budget was only three months away, and some tax incentive by Government would be needed.
The Focus FFV was an essential ingredient of a three-stranded partnership programme comprising (1) a car that could run on biofuels, (2) a retail network that could provide the fuel, and (3) a source of fuel.
Maxol, an independent petrol retailer with which Ford had a longstanding relationship, was a partner which could both source and sell the fuel. A joint Ford/Maxol launch event was designed to raise awareness and also put pressure on Government to grant favourable tax treatment for the car.
The Environment Minister Dick Roche was invited, along with around 70 others including fleet customers from local authorities, Department officials and agri-science interests. The biofuel was made from a milk derivative in Cork, so a photoshoot was set up with the Minister holding a jug of milk – it was used widely.
Motoring journalists would be key drivers of publicity, primarily through a test drive programme. Given the proximity of the budget, an all-out effort of chauffeuring the one test model available to journalists for short periods was initiated. The task was accentuated by the need to display the same car at relevant conferences (ICOS, IFA) within the same period.
Political lobbying was essential but challenging, given that there was no precedent in Europe for positive discrimination by Government of the Focus FFV. However, it was decided to seek a 50% VRT (advice the mean TAX) rebate, similar to the tax break the Government had introduced for the Toyota Prius Hybrid.
(As the Focus FFV was not a dedicated hybrid, however – it could be driven entirely on petrol if the customer wished – most commentators felt the car would not be granted the rebate.)
Starting with the presence of the Minister for the Environment at the Focus FFV launch, the lobbying effort included the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, the Minister for Finance, various opposition spokespersons as well as a meeting with the Department of Finance immediately prior to the Budget.
Lobbying – to the surprise of most motoring commentators, on Budget day the Minister for Finance duly announced that the tax rebate would be extended to Flexi-Fuel Vehicles. This represented a saving of some €2,500 and made the Focus FFV an attractive commercial proposition.
Media coverage – the media value of the programme was spectacular, with print media alone delivering in excess of €150,000. RTE main evening news carried the story on two separate occasions, with TV3 News and Sky News Ireland also featuring it. 5-7 Live was among the many national radio programmes to cover the Focus FFV.
The future is green – in the period since the launch, Volvo, Saab and Citroen have introduced FFV models and there are now over 30 fuel outlets. Over 1,000 vehicles have been sold and bioethanol is increasingly recognised as a part solution to future transport needs.