DETROIT -- To most people, lasers, guitar riffs and cheering crowds seem more suited for a rock concert than a ride and drive, but that's not what Ford Motor Co. thinks.
Later this month, Ford plans to launch a nationwide tour that will allow consumers to test drive a 2012 Focus through a video game-like course designed to highlight the vehicle's technology and handling.
Each Focus used for the "Start More Than a Car. Get More Than a Test Drive" event will be outfitted with a laser on the bottom of the car. Several bull's-eye targets are located throughout the course and the driver's goal will be to pass over the center of each target -- the closer to the middle they are, the more points they earn.
If they drive directly over the target, drivers will hear the blaring sound of a guitar or the cheers of a roaring crowd through the car's speakers. But, if they miss the mark drivers will be met with disappointed groans or sighs.
Every Focus also is equipped with a small lipstick camera near the rear view mirror that captures the driver's every move around the course. After completing the challenge, each participant will be e-mailed a video of their trip around the course that they'll then be able to share and post to their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
It's the latest attempt by Ford to get more U.S. consumers -- particularly younger drivers who would consider a European or Asian compact model first -- behind the wheel of the redesigned Focus.
The participant's videos will allow Ford to get the "absolute bang for the buck," as ride and drives tend to be some of the most expensive types of advertising, said Lew Echlin, Ford global car marketing manager.
"It's something that's uniquely memorable and it's an experience that's uniquely sharable," Echlin said. "The customer not only remembers it from the event and had an impact from the event, but they get that reminder two or three days later and they share it with others."
Social media campaigns are nothing new for Ford. The automaker has used sites like Facebook and YouTube to promote vehicles like the Fiesta and Focus to younger audiences months before they go on sale.
Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president for global marketing, sales and service, said this week social media sites allow customers to share their experiences with one another -- citing Apple computers as an ideal model.
"If you own an Apple who are you going to ask first? You're going to go online to ask another Apple owner," Farley said at the Management Briefing Seminars this week in Traverse City, Mich. "They know a lot more than even the company and they're more accessible and able to help."
Several hundred people have already participated in pilots of the program the past few weeks in the Detroit area. Of those who took part, 86 percent shared their videos with others and, on average, each individual video was viewed 18 times in its entirety, Echlin said.
The tour will open on Aug. 22 in Chicago and will continue to 22 cities through December. Echlin wouldn't elaborate on where else the program was headed, but ultimately, by the end of the year Ford hopes that a total of 100,000 people get to test drive the Focus -- with half of that amount coming from "Start More Than a Car. Get More Than a Test Drive."
Test drives will be held at corporate facilities, college campuses and big box retail stores. Echlin said those locations were specifically chosen because they'll be able to market the event fairly easily to employees, students and shoppers.
"We have an opportunity to promote that a ride and drive is going to be there for a week before to a relatively captive audience," Echlin said.
Ford sold 14,889 Focus models last month and 112,913 through the first seven months of 2011, making it the automaker's second-highest selling car behind the Fusion.
Ford has also run into glitches while launching the new Focus.
According to the Associated Press, the equipment that makes the skin for dashboards on the Focus is faulty and has forced Ford to limit output. In turn, according to the AP, Ford decided to import the necessary parts from Europe to keep North American production on schedule.
The dashboards are assembled at a Ford parts plant in Saline, Mich., and Ford builds the Focus at its Michigan Assembly plant in suburban Detroit.
Ford also plans to release an electric version of the Focus later this year and CEO Alan Mulally appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman this week to promote the car.
Letterman even took a prototype of it on a spin around the stage as Mulally rode shotgun.
"Very nice," Letterman said from behind the wheel, "This was fun."
(Source: Automotive News)