The future of the Ford Motor Co. could depend on the wallets of Hispanic car buyers. Struggling to reverse losses amounting to billions of dollars, the automaker is ramping up one of the most important product launches in its history, an all-new version of the full-size F-150 pickup. While the overall F-150 ad campaign will be the largest in the company's history, it will take special aim at ethnic groups that might have been ignored in the past. "A pretty substantial portion" of the budget will be aimed specifically at the Hispanic market, says Nathaniel Mason, multicultural marketing manager at the flagship Ford Division.
In an industry where manufacturers fight for each tenth of a share point, the latest Census data on the Hispanic population haven't gone unnoticed. Whether they make their pitch in English or Spanish, companies like Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and General Motors (GM) are making plans to win over Hispanic buyers, whose numbers are expected to grow three times faster than the overall U.S. new car market, according to J.D. Power & Associates.
But big budgets alone aren't the solution. The first challenge is to define and understand the Hispanic market. And that hasn't proven easy.
U.S. residents are expected to buy about 16.5 million new cars and trucks this year. Research by J.D. Power suggests that Hispanics make up 8 percent of that total. The market research firm Intellous put the price tag for Hispanic new vehicle purchases in 2001 at $16.86 billion (see table, "Automotive Expenditures by Hispanics").
"One of the biggest issues I struggle with is the lack of and inconsistency in the data," complains Jon Cropper, senior manager of Diversity and Youth Communications for the Japanese import Nissan. In many cases, "you can't ask people what their ethnic background is," he says, so a lot of the research relies on identifying Hispanic surnames – an imprecise technique.
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