Fleet News

Geneva Motor Show: Ford boss warns over threat of downsizing

THE future of the upper-medium sector could be under threat as drivers downsize or move to premium-based models, according to a senior Ford chief.

In an exclusive interview Ford of Europe vice-president of marketing Earl Hesterberg said the upper-medium segment was suffering a 'huge dip'. He added: 'Sales have dropped from 20% to 13% of the total industry output and the fact that we are the market leader means we have suffered most.

'This is a problem but no-one can control how the segment shrinks. Having the blue oval on the front works against the Mondeo with those people who are more interested in the status of prestige brands than they are in the car. All we can do is to keep trying to bring out the best products.

'This is a fact of life and nothing much can be done about it. But we are proud of having been out in front for 26 years and we will defend that position, even though the competition improves and marketing becomes more intense every year.

'Because we have had a working relationship with so many of our customers over such a long period, I think we will maintain our business with the large number of people who still want value as well as driving the best car in the segment.'

Asked if falling sales might prompt the company to retreat from the upper-medium sector, Hesterberg said: 'You can never say never and I can't predict the future, but I can never see Ford abandoning the Mondeo segment.

'Across Europe, we still hold 15% of the upper-medium segment and big cars are important to our overall profit. They balance out our small car operation, where we are very strong but have lower profit margins.'

Hesterberg said diesel power was a key to gaining extra sales, with new engines developed jointly with PSA Peugeot Citroen adding to the TDCi common rail diesel range, which he claimed is recognised in the volume segment as the best value-for- money and the best technology.

He added: 'At 36%, we are still two points behind the European average for diesel sales and we still have room to grow, particularly in France and Spain. I think our biggest job in the 19 markets we supply is to get awareness that Ford now offers highly competent diesel power. But we are relative newcomers and it takes a long time to register the point because perception always lags reality.'

Production-ready Focus C-Max makes its show debut

FORD revealed its Focus C-Max mini-MPV (pictured) in production form for the first time at Geneva, with executives promising more responsive handling than the current Focus. It will give an alternative option in a flourishing market – more than 90,000 mini-MPVs were bought by UK fleets last year.

The main criticism of the car so far is the fact that it will not come with an option of seven seats, which has been a strong selling point for the Vauxhall Zafira, and will be for the upcoming Volkswagen Touran. But Ford is not targeting these potential customers and says people who need seven seats regularly would opt for a Galaxy.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford of Europe vice-president for product development, said: 'We believe the five-seat configuration better meets the demands of our target customers, few of whom have the need to transport seven people. Above all, we did not want to compromise on the attributes which these customers value most – stylish and ergonomic design and car-like driving characteristics.'

The Focus C-Max will be launched later in the autumn, with three engines: a 120bhp 1.8-litre petrol, a 135bhp 2.0-litre and 110bhp 1.6-litre TDCi units. The diesels will not be Euro IV compliant at launch.

Ford also unveiled a more powerful 130bhp 1.9-litre Tdi turbodiesel Galaxy, the Fusion Plus, with its DVD entertainment system and the six-speed manual 130bhp Mondeo TDCi.

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