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Ford Five Hundred Hits Bull's-Eye with Boomers


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By Kristopher Spencer

The Ford Five Hundred is quietly winning over a wide variety of customers, including aging middle income Baby Boomers; its target market. Roominess, ease of getting in and out and safety features are among the reasons for its popularity with older consumers.

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"The Five Hundred offers a tall seating position, facilitating easy entry and exit for those whose physical challenges make stooping and bending painful," said Warren Clarke of Edmunds.com.

Edmunds ranked the Ford Five Hundred second on its list of top 10 car buys for seniors in 2006. The Mercury Montego, its sister sedan, received an honorable mention.

William Leitzy of Bucyrus , Ohio , drove Lincolns for 15 years before test-driving the Mercury Montego. Describing himself as "a very well-satisfied senior citizen," Leitzy wrote on Yahoo! Autos that the car is "a joy to drive" and that he has not been disappointed with the purchase.

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Leitzy praised the car's higher seating position, legroom, large interior space and large trunk, sliding sun visor, radio controls on steering wheel, analog clock, and an automatic dimming rear view mirror.

The average age of a Five Hundred buyer is 56 years, in line with its key competitors Chrysler 300 (average age 50 years), Chevrolet Impala (55 years) and Toyota Camry V6 (54 years), according to Mike Herniak, Ford Marketing group brand manager.

"Aging Boomers form a tremendous customer base for this vehicle, and those who have driven the Five Hundred are just in love with it," Herniak said.

Herniak noted that its roomy interior, commanding seat position, generous cargo capacity and all-wheel-drive capability are a strong draw for empty nesters on the go.

"Critical accolades like the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) 'Top Pick-Gold' and five-star safety ratings in all four categories, a combination of awards won by no other car in the industry today, also add strong appeal," Herniak said.

Seniors have their own unique and varied set of needs when it comes to vehicles, noted Clarke, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 60 percent of adults age 65 and over suffer from some ailment or physical limitation. Accordingly, seniors need to vehicles that offer easy accessibility as well as comfort and safety features not found in every vehicle.

According to information compiled by the CDC, the 65-and-older age group accounts for more than 19.9 million or 10 percent licensed drivers. By CDC estimates, more than 40 million seniors will be licensed drivers by 2020.

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Clarke also pointed out that the Five Hundred's heated, power-adjustable driver seat with memorized settings for two drivers are available on the Limited series, while adjustable pedals and rear parking sensors are available on the sedan.

"A backup sensor is a valuable tool, since people's depth perception begins to suffer with age," said Paul Gonzales, AAA spokesperson.

The Ford Five Hundred performed better than expected in a highly competitive segment.

"With an 8.5 percent share of the large car segment in 2005, we over-achieved our market share objective of 8.0 percent for the Five Hundred last year, and we look forward to an even stronger year in 2006," said Killol Bhuta, Five Hundred/Crown Victoria/Taurus marketing manager.

Bhuta added that Ford dealerships enjoy a higher closing rate (62 percent) with Five Hundred shoppers than Toyota or Honda dealerships have with the Camry (57.9 percent) and Accord (56.3 percent). Only the Chrysler 300 enjoys a higher closing rate at 66 percent.

"The Five Hundred appeals to customers who are making a transition from an SUV into a full-size sedan, but still want some of an SUV’s features," said Herniak. "A lot of boomers and matures are showing a strong interest in the Five Hundred because it offers a lot of best-in-class amenities for a sensible price."

On a 2005 New Vehicle Customer Study, the Ford Five Hundred's comfortable interior and its accessibility were features that scored the highest importance with mature buyers. The study also found that its trunk space, with 21 cubic feet of storage, is the largest of any car in North America , making the transportation of walkers and scooters a snap, not to mention its ability to carry eight golf bags.