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By Louis Bedigian

Ford is known for manufacturing some of the best and most original vehicles available. So why is the new Escape a clone of the Honda CR-V?

The obvious (if not painful) answer is that Ford (NYSE:F) liked what it saw, valued the success of one of its competitors, and simply wished to imitate Honda (NYSE:HMC) with an imitation of its own. Fans of Ford would rightly argue that other car companies have been doing this for years; walk into any crowded parking lot and you'll often find several SUVs or crossovers that look the same, regardless of the manufacturer. The same is true for cars, a truth Ford knows all too well.

Critics of Ford will say that the company has copied its competitors all along, that Ford is no better than Toyota (NYSE:TM), that Hyundai is the future of automotive design, and that General Motors (NYSE:GM) is still the best automaker around. Yawn. I've heard every argument. But let's face a little reality, guys: we all have our favorite automaker, and we all have different perceptions of the quality, durability and design of each automaker's cars. If we didn't, there'd only be one corporation manufacturing cars because we would all want the same thing.

Since that isn't the case, let me be clear that this piece is about Ford. And right now, I'm not too thrilled with what Ford is doing:

ford_escape2013_vs_honda_cr-v2012_inside.jpg

See anything you like or dislike? More importantly, do you see any similarities between the two vehicles? If not, please wipe your eyes, grab your glasses and return to the computer screen. Now do you see them?

If you look closely, you might have noticed that the side windows are slightly different (the CR-V's windows are a little more rounded than the Escape's). The taillights are very different. And the headlights are…kind of different!

In any case, I'm a bit frustrated with Ford's latest announcement, especially since it comes just two months ahead of the 2012 North American International Auto Show, an event that is scheduled to host the worldwide unveiling of the next Mustang. While it is not yet known how much of the Mustang is being redesigned, there have been hints of a ‘90s throwback. That would be acceptable, so long as it was done tastefully. But I can't help but wonder if the next Mustang will look like another car that's already on the road.

As a fan of Ford's other vehicles, I could defend the company by saying that consumer preferences forced the automaker to become a copycat. I could point out a report by the Associated Press, which states that the Escape was only able to gain the number-one spot in America after a massive earthquake in Japan disrupted CR-V supplies. Thus, Ford was left with no choice but to produce a vehicle that was closer to its competitor, and thus more likely to be one that consumers desired.

That's what I could say. But I'm not going to say that. Instead, let's hear what my colleagues had to say.

“Why are they doing that?” one colleague, a 2011 Escape owner, asked. “I feel like [the 2013 model] is a mom car. [But] I love the Escape that's currently out.”

“I wouldn't drive that,” adds another colleague, who also drives an Escape. “I had seen early images of it last year and chose to go with the current model.”

“It makes it feel smaller,” another colleague said.

“It doesn't look American,” yet another colleague said. “It looks Korean.”

The only thing people seem to like about the new Escape is its interior. If nothing else, Ford never disappoints in that respect.

ACTION ITEMS:

Bullish:

Can Ford speed past the CR-V with a CR-V copycat? If you have faith in the company's latest automobile, consider these trades:

  • Visteon (NYSE:VC), Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI) and other Ford suppliers could thrive if the new Escape flies out of the company's dealerships.
  • Obviously the new Escape could also help Ford's bottom line (and thus, its EPS).

Bearish:

Concerned by what people are saying about the new Escape? Are you afraid that it won't be what drivers CRaVe? Then consider these alternatives:

  • Toyota and General Motors are expected to unveil news SUVs and/or crossovers in the coming year (most likely at the 2012 North American International Auto Show).
  • Once the supplies are back to normal, Honda's CR-V may very well regain its place at the top.


    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
Source: Is Ford A Leader Or A Follower?