DALLAS -- Every morning, Charlie Brumfield slips behind the wheel of Ford's future -- and floors it.
Brumfield drives away from his home in Mesquite, Texas, in a European Ford Fiesta, one of a new group of high-content compacts that Ford Motor Co. will begin selling in the U.S. next summer.
"It's a blast to drive," says Brumfield, 26, a Web site designer and photographer. "It begs you to red-line it in every gear."
In an unusual marketing move, Ford gave 100 Fiestas to young drivers nationwide -- including three in Seattle -- for six months, counting on them to blog about the small, distinctively shaped sedans and take them places where they can be seen.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally has put a priority on bolstering the automaker's burly truck lineup with an array of refined compact and midsize sedans. The Fiesta is the first of several European compact cars that Ford plans to bring to the States. It's designed and built in Europe, and it's not related to the old American car of the same name.
The Ford Fiesta
- Stats are for the European model; Ford has not released any official data on the U.S. version of the car.
- Fuel economy: 40 mpg
- Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 118 horsepower
- Length: 13 feet
- Weight: 2,467 pounds
- Price: Car and Driver estimates that the car will have a base price of $13,000
But Ford also realizes that small cars are still a tough sell in big, expansive America, and that's where Brumfield and dozens like him roll in.
The "Fiesta Movement," which began about four months ago, was fairly controversial initially at Ford because it allows reviewers to say whatever they want about the cars.
"There was never resistance to it, but there were a lot of questions," says Connie Fontaine, brand content and alliance manager for Ford. "But we also viewed this as an opportunity to show we have a lot of confidence in this car."
Brumfield and his business partner, Nick Malone, also 26, produce a car-oriented Internet radio show that can be downloaded from their Web site, burnoutradio.com.
Brumfield said they are under no pressure from Ford to comment favorably about the Fiesta. In fact, he is critical of some aspects of the car -- such as European seats that are too small for his 5-foot-11, 240-pound body.
Overall, he and Malone like the strongly styled Fiesta a lot, citing features such as its gutsy acceleration, headlight-leveling system and automatic everything in what should be a sub-$15,000 car.
"People my age don't watch TV or read newspapers," says Brumfield, who is not paid by Ford but gets money from the automaker for gas. "They watch YouTube and surf the Internet for news."
The Fiesta Movement exemplifies the challenges domestic automakers face as baby boomers are supplanted by 20-something millennials as the driving demographic force in the industry.
Automakers, analysts say, need to offer different types of vehicles and promote them in non-traditional media such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube.
"We've got a really good story to tell, but it's hard to reach [younger drivers]," Fontaine says. "We have to either put them in a vehicle or get someone else they trust to tell them about it."