DUESSELDORF, Germany -- Ford of Europe will sell versions of its larger models with upscale features under a new badge called Vignale.
The Vignale line is the latest attempt by a mass-market automaker to woo affluent customers more interested in a lifestyle choice than a bargain. Ford will launch the badge at the upcoming Frankfurt auto show with a concept based on its new-generation Mondeo.
With the Vignale line, Ford joins rivals such as PSA/Peugeot-Citroen with its Citroen DS cars and Renault with its planned Initiale Paris subbrand in creating specially badged vehicles aimed at luring buyers away from German premium brands BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Vignale, whose name suggests an expensive Italian marque, will also to help counter moves by luxury brands to attract buyers from mass-market segments with cars such as the Audi A1 and BMW 1 series.
Roelant De Waard, Ford of Europe's sales and marketing chief, said the automaker expects half of Vignale customers to come from premium brands while the other half will be existing Ford buyers looking to upgrade.
Vignale-badged Ford models will be priced 10 percent to 15 percent more than the automaker's most expensive models on the market currently.
Ford of Europe's marketing head, Gaetano Thorel, said the Vignale version of the Mondeo will cost 3,000 to 4,000 euros more than the brand's current top-of-the-line model, which is badged Titanium.
"The Vignale version of the Mondeo would cost far less than an entry-level Audi A4," Thorel told Automotive News Europe at a press event here. "The aim is to make people who buy a Fiesta or a Focus look at the brand with different eyes and persuade them to spend more for a Ford," he said.
Ford expects Vignale versions to account for 10 percent of its sales in Europe, Thorel said.
The Vignale line will also help Ford move away from profit-sapping discounts that European automakers are offering on new cars to boost sales in the recession-hit region.
IHS Automotive senior analyst Ian Fletcher said volume automakers are eyeing the premium sector because they can leverage their existing mass-market cars to produce vehicles they can price higher in the same category. "This will ultimately offer greater profits," he said.
ADAC, Europe's largest automobile club, said that responses from its annual customer satisfaction survey support Ford's strategy since the Citroen DS line seems to have had a positive impact on the image of PSA in the eyes of German car owners.
"Data show that the much more expensive DS3 is often bought because of its design and sportiness, while the most cited reason for purchasing the Citroen C3 is its price tag," said Jan Schreier, project leader for the ADAC survey to be published this month.
BMW not worried
BMW sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson said mass-market automakers will find it difficult to compete with luxury rivals. "Premium comes with many, many facets. One of them is history. Brands don't come in overnight," Robertson told Automotive News Europe in a recent interview.