Ford rolls out the blue carpet to debut its new Escape

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. turned Main Street blue and enlisted the help of more than 60 performers to debut the 2020 Escape here at Greenfield Village. It's the first all-new Escape in six years.

The compact SUV accounted for more than 11 percent of Ford's total U.S. sales last year, second only to the F-Series pickup. The fourth iteration of Ford's first-ever unibody SUV is more sleek and less boxy, and it's among the first new vehicles built on one of five platforms for Ford's global markets. 

As Ford cuts sedans from the lineup, the lower-to-the-ground 2020 Escape bridges the gap with the sedans soon to exit Ford's lineup. The automaker will introduce an unnamed small off-road SUV at a later date.

Actors, performers and artists participate in the reveal of the 2020 Ford Escape during a live performance at Greenfield Village.

The company is positioning the vehicle closer to a traditional car rather than the boxy compact utes like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V that outsold the Escape last year.

"Compact SUVs are the best-selling products in the country right now," said Stephanie Brinley, industry analyst with IHS Markit. "It's important to do it right. Ford has the opportunity to come with kind of a fresh sheet."

For Ford, that means distinguishing itself from the nearly 30 compact SUVs expected to be on-sale from competitors in 2019.

When Escape first launched in 2001, there were six true compact SUVs on the market. With that unnamed small SUV coming down the pike, Ford will have two models fighting in the crowded compact SUV market — one urban and one off-road.

"As the segment grows, there are sub-segments evolving," Ford President of North America Kumar Galhotra said.  "We're avoiding becoming a commodity."

To introduce the new model, Ford spent two months preparing to transform several blocks of Greenfield Village, the open-air historical town not far from Ford World Headquarters. Ford's "Escapeville" fantasy town is the brainchild of Ford's communications team and Alistair Wilson, managing director of Imagination Detroit, a partner company that coordinates most Ford product events. 

The teams created what was essentially a live commercial acted out in one take along a Main Street covered by Ford-blue carpet. On Tuesday, around 1,500 Ford employees and dealers were situated on bleachers towed down the street by a Super Duty pickup as dozens of actors and several Escapes buzzed around in a choreographed performance. 

Basketball players from the University of Michigan-Dearborn exited the Escape to show off the second-row legroom. Someone dressed in fatigues let their dog out of the rear before embracing their mother. Ford built mock storefronts and buildings centered around new features on the vehicle like the drive modes, driver-assist features and the 200-pound diet the new model went on.

Artists, and actors perform for the media during a reveal of the 2020 Ford Escape at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn.

It was all meant to reach a broader social-media audience that might have been possible at an auto show, where just 10 years ago the Escape more likely would have made its global debut. Tuesday's debut came two weeks before the New York auto show. Meantime Ford's European business leaders were running a "Go Further" event in Amsterdam in which executives rolled out new product plans for the continent to analysts and media gathered there. 

"What you're really looking at is automakers trying to find some space and grab some attention," IHS Markit's Brinley said. "Ford has been on that train pretty hard."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau