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If you're a bandage maker, how do you go up against Band-Aids? Or if you're a lip balm maker, how to you challenge ChapStick?

That's the question Ford faced when it decided to challenge Prius, a name which is becoming synonymous with hybrid cars, by building a car that will come only in hybrid or extended-range electric versions in the U.S. – the C-Max.

"How do you launch a new nameplate against your competitor, which is the Kleenex of hybrids?" said Amy Machesney, marketing manager for the C-Max.

Ford thinks it's found the answer, unveiling a marketing push this past weekend, which uses an old Italian cartoon character, "La Linea." The ads show the simple line character happily reacting to a line-drawn C-Max.

"The marketing is charming, it's whimsical," said Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing communications for Ford. Hybrid buyers, he said, like upbeat messages because they tend to be more optimistic about the future.

The C-Max ad campaign also includes a web portion, which has jokey videos called "The Hybrid Games", which put the Prius and the C-Max head to head in various activities, like passing a big truck on the highway.

La Linea was a pop culture hit in the 1970s, seen in 50 countries. It involves a small, drawn character who speaks gibberish. He yells at an unseen animator, whose hand sometimes appears in the screen and "helps" the character by drawing new surroundings.

Although the original creator of La Linea, Osvaldo Cavandoli, died in 2007, his studio did the animation for the C-Max commercials, drawing each frame by hand.

"The fact that each cell has to be hand-drawn lends a certain warmth to the animation," said Brad Hensen, creative director of Team Detroit, Ford's advertiser behind the campaign. Other animation the company considered for the ad was "too fluid, too slick," he said. "Life isn't that way. Being more real is another way this campaign truly reflects the vehicle."

The hybrid C-Max, which starts at a base price of $25,995, began hitting dealer showrooms in September, and the automaker sold 968 of them last month, which was more than Ford executives expected before the ads started to build awareness, VanDyke said.

Buyers are increasingly open to purchasing hybrid cars, VanDyke said. One in three car shoppers said they would consider purchasing a hybrid. Still, the gas and battery cars only make up a sliver of overall U.S. sales, about 3 percent year to date, according to web site HybridCars.com.

VanDyke said the automaker hopes it will win over hybrid customers by offering a car that's more powerful than Prius models, offers nicer interiors and features, and gives drivers a smoother driving experience.

The car can go up to 62 miles per hour on electric power alone, a huge increase over other hybrids, which often lose battery power around 20 miles per hour, when the gas engine kicks in. The car is expected to get 47 mpg in city and highway driving.

"In the U.S., there's an unmet need. People don't feel safe passing a truck on the highway, or getting on the on-ramp," VanDyke said. The C-Max, he said, is different. "If we can get this on their shopping lists, which we're very confident the advertising can do, we're sure people will like it."

In a few months, Ford will bring out the C-Max Energi, a version of the car that runs on pure electric power for about 20 miles before a gas motor kicks in to keep the car going until the next charge-up. That car competes against the Toyota Prius Plug-in extended range electric, as well as the Chevy Volt. The idea behind that technology is that drivers who take advantage of electricity being cheaper than gasoline will never have to worry about running out of power, because the gas motor on board keeps powering the battery until it can be recharged. Realistically, it means that C-Max drivers will be able to drive 40 miles per day on cheap electricity rather than $4.50-$5.50 per gallon gasoline.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      hello dogs
      • 2 Years Ago
      i think ford is finally looking at what will sell, look at Californias gas prices, people cant afford to go to work. Most europeans drive small cars why do we need suvs, trucks that do not haul anything,hummers absurd.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Please... Where are the CNG cars?
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RED SKULL
        Honda makes a CNG Civic and some of the big 3 pickups have liquid propane options
      • 2 Years Ago
      OH MOOOO,,, ttoooo ugly vehicle
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is one ugly a** car. I would not be caught dead driving one.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Of course, one of the interesting "Ford of Europe" Ford's I'd actually have an interest in, and they're keeping it to hybrid and EV status only. Why on earth do we have to get shafted on the interesting, practical hatchbacks and smaller MPV's the rest of the world gets? An C-Max ST would be just as easy to put together as the regular C-Max is, just lift the engine and gearbox from a different Focus than usual, and it'd be a very, very practical hot hatch.
      • 2 Years Ago
      When they start building a reliable truck in this type of vehicle BUT without an additional 10 -15 thousand added on the price, get back with me. Tiny little cars that add no potential for helping bring stuff home to do needed projects around the house or towing the boat or other types of weekend or vacation time recreation things just don't cut it.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Oh, come on, Sharon. While Prius is widely known by the public, it is far from a near-generic term such as Kleenex or Band-Aids. Moreover, Toyota in general and Prius itself have been plagued with enough problems lately, that I seriously doubt anyone would use the term when describing another vehicle. If Ford handles its product and promotion well, it can overcome any advantage Prius may currently have.
      • 2 Years Ago
      A Hybrid Automobile remains a waste of time and energy. To create the battery several processes involving hazardous waste must be undertaken, and at the end of the battery's life, it must be disposed of as hazardous waste. This is green technology?
        • 2 Years Ago
        It really is a joke. By time they mine the nickel, refine it, package it into the batteries, put them into the Prius, and ship it halfway round the world for sale it's so ecologically unfriendly it's as bad if not worse than virtually any non-hybrid car or truck getting half the mileage. Hydrogen's the real future of motoring, and the real ecological and economical solution. Hybrids are just a stop gap for the automakers and the hipsters of the world to look the part.
          • 1 Year Ago
          Hydrogen cars have electric drivetrains anyway and need a lithium battery pack to buffer energy anyway
          • 2 Years Ago
          I'd take some citations on those claims. FWIW the Ford uses lithium not nickel.
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