I had the opportunity to meet the U.S. Sales Analyst Erich Merkle at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was merely a coincidence as I made my way from the Ford booth towards the Lincoln booth where he and Ford U.S.
Communications Manager Craig Daitch were chatting on the second floor in front of Edsel Ford's Model 40 Speedster. Craig Daitch knowing I am a huge SHO fan introduced me to Erich Merkle whose 2013 Deep Impact Blue SHO is being assembled at the plant. Erich Merkle made a brief stop in Orange County at the Ford Design Studios and spoke on the outstanding 2013 Fusion. I didn't have the opportunity to meet up with him, so I decided to do this interview instead.
What is your position with Ford Motor Company at the Dearborn World Headquarters?
I am Ford's U.S. Sales Analyst. My responsibilities include tracking sales and reviewing product trends in the marketplace. I review this data, along with market trends and product, with media, analysts, and various departments internal here at Ford.
How long have you been working for Ford?
I am relatively new to Ford, but no stranger to the industry. I hired in at Ford on September 1st of 2010. I have been forecasting the automotive industry and providing product trend and forecasting guidance for the last 15 years.
What education and experience did you have to prepare you for this position?
I have an M.B.A. and got my first "real world" forecasting experience after I finished graduate school. At the time, I was working for a company that made personal and homecare products. I have always loved the automobile... going back as far as I can remember. When the opportunity came to apply my forecasting skills with my extreme passion for the automobile some fifteen years ago, I had to explore it.
It isn't an easy industry, but I wouldn't change a thing about all of my amazing experiences. From being a young boy and pouring through the new car buff books (researching all the specs) and dreaming about driving all of these different vehicles, to my current postion as U.S. Sales Analyst here at Ford. I have had the good fortune to see and learn so much.
Did you have a favorite car in your childhood that was a Ford?
I loved so many cars as a kid growing up, but my first car was a '69 Ford Mustang. My father brought it home on a trailer. It sat outside and hadn't been started for 5 plus years. He purchased it for $300 at the time and we spent a year or so restoring it. It was a fastback body style and had a 302 c.i. V8. It was red with flat black paint details. Growing up around cars with my father provided some really fond memories, but also prepared me well for the carrer that I am so passionate about today. I always knew that I would eventually work in the automotive industry.
What are some of the reasons why you purchased the 2013 Taurus SHO?
It's is part of our management lease program. I selected it over other offerings because it provides great performance and is all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive feature works so well here in Michigan. It really provides me with the best of both worlds. I get my performance addiction satisfied and yet I can still drive it everyday in the winter months.
I do long for a Mustang though and have opportunities to drive them from time to time. It is such an incredible car!! I love all Mustangs because they are so well executed for their intended audience. The V6 provides low end grunt and the sound DNA of a V8. Most don't believe it is even a V6; unless told. The GT is increadible, particularly with the new 3.73:1 axle. It pulls like a freight train!! Soooo much fun!
Do you plan on keeping it stock or modding the SHO?
As it is a management lease vehicle, no modding can be done. I will need to do that later when I purchase a third car. When it occurs, it will be a Mustang.
Did you look at other Ford Motor Company vehicles other than the SHO?
I actually have another managment lease vehicle, which is a 2012 Ford Explorer. I am looking forward to the Sport version when it becomes available later. It works well for my family with third row seating and has increadible fuel economy.
How is the global demand for a mid-size vehicle such as the 2013 Fusion/Mondeo in markets such as the Middle East, South America, Asia and Australia?
The mid-size segment is sizable in the U.S. In fact, we see it growing throughout this year and into 2013. Much of the growth will come from a very strong product cadence that is developing throughout 2012, with many of the new mid-size vehicles providing tremendous gains in fuel economy. Nothing like the 2013 Ford Fusion however, which will incorporate a 1.6 liter and 2.0 liter EcoBoost, Hybrid, and Plug-in Hybrid (we call it Energi).
The 2013 Hybrid will achieve at least 47 mpg in the city and 44 mpg hwy and the Energi variant of the 2013 Fusion is capable of 100 mpg(e). No other automaker has this choice of powertrains in the mid-size sedan segment. There is something for everyone.
Do you expect to conquer the mid-size market with the 2013 Fusion like the Ford Taurus once did in the late 80s through mid 90s?
We are all so excited about the 2013 Fusion and its prospects for growth in the mid-size sedan segment. As a car person that tracks the data, it's something similar to watching a sporting match. You see the product and you have a really good sense that it is going to perform in the market, but you never really know for certain until you start seeing the numbers come in.
A products success is largely based on strong execution that best matches the needs and wants of its intended audience. When it goes live and hits the market you get to score it and access market response. We feel very confident that the market will very much love what we have done with the 2013 Fusion.
We feel the 2013 Fusion will be deemed as one of the best product executions in automotive history. It's game changer! We know automakers say that about every product they are about to launch, but the 2013 Fusion is the real deal. We have powertrain choice, fuel economy, technology that can't be found in other vehicles in this segment and styling that is just exquisite.
The 2013 Fusion will allow mid-size sedan shoppers to check all the rationale boxes that they need to check; i.e. fuel economy, safety, quality, reliability, strong residual values. After all of those boxes are checked, we really want to give them something special with the 2013 Fusion.... beautiful design! We want to create a love affair between our 2013 Fusion and our customers. We wan't our customer to be excited to pickup their new 2013 Fusion and show it off.
We are moving beyond solely point A to B transportion in the mid-size sedan segment and asking people to fall in love with their vehicle. Love the way it looks, the way it performs, the way it feels and engages all of the senses. The 2013 Fusion is a special vehicle and so too are the people that will own them.
Fiesta and Focus are the best selling global nameplates. Do you project the Fusion to be right behind Fiesta and Focus at No. 3?
We expect Fusion and Modeo, which will move to a common global vehicle to provide sales success on a global scale. Focus and Fiesta rank among the top selling vehicles in the world. We expect Fusion/Mondeo sales to be highly competitive within the mid-size segment globally.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, what is the level of demand for the Focus ST?
It's still to early, but we have had tremendous response to the Focus ST from the performance orientated customer. Performance vehicles work great to compliment the overall nameplate though. We see it with the Shelby GT500 and Boss Mustangs, Taurus SHO, Raptor Pickups, and now the Focus ST, and the Exploer Sport.
As someone that really loves to drive, its a wonderful experience to have such a strong arsenal of performance vehicles in the product lineup. This business centers so much around passion and people coming to work everyday and having fun designing, developing, and producing great vehicles. Customers recognize when you are having fun. It shows in the product... giving you that Wow factor!!
Does the number of pre-orders for the Focus ST justify producing more for 2014 or will productions numbers be about the same?
Sorry, but we just don't give out volumes or future production plans.
Has Ford studied the demand for the European-only Focus RS500?
We are always reviewing and looking at new product opportunities.
Ford Motor Company