Can the Mondeo Stage a Comeback?

As the brakes come off a troubled mainstream European car market, Ford and General Motors jealously guard market share, but at what cost?

2016 Ford Mondeo. Image via fordautoreviews
2016 Ford Mondeo. Image via fordautoreviews

The post crunch era has been tough for America’s European automotive outposts. Of the pair, Ford appears in better shape, having already taken painful steps to arrest serious overcapacity in their European operations by shutting loss-making plants. The closure of the Genk plant only partially explains why the US Fusion took so long to become the European Mondeo. Last year, we suggested Ford had waited too long to launch its new mid-ranger and did so with a design that appeared a little too reminiscent of the outgoing one. Having lost almost 50% of its market in 2014, the (not quite) new Mondeo had it all to do in 2015. How has it fared?

Not too shabbily – sales for the new model showing a marked recovery aided by rising demand in formerly austerity ridden markets like Italy, Spain and Ireland. 2015 saw the Mondeo post deliveries of 79,673*, a 75% increase over the previous year**. Ford had a decent year in Europe, aided by a booming UK market. However, Britain is no longer a happy hunting ground for the D-segment, the German prestige brands maintaining an unassailable stranglehold on the sector.

So while the Mondeo reversed 2014’s sales collapse, its numbers still lag well behind arch-rival Opel’s still remarkably resilient Insignia, a car launched as long ago as 2008. Having sold 92,694 Insignias in 2014, last year’s sales remained steady at 88,544, maintaining GME’s lead over Ford. Less clear however is to what (if any) degree the figures have been massaged.

Another aspect the sales figures don’t tell us is how many Mondeos were sold in upmarket Vignale specification. Because if Ford can shift even a fairly modest number of luxury-trimmed Mondeos, Henry would be in a position to carve out a high-margin advantage over his Rüsselsheim rival.

Certainly, GM have yet to see much in the way of black ink on Opel’s balance sheet and the fear is that despite aiming for profitability in 2016, the obsession with market share is undermining gains made elsewhere. Certainly, it was disagreements over Opel management’s preference for sales volume over profitability that led to schisms between Rüsselsheim and Luton, culminating in UK MD, Tim Tozer’s resignation in September.

Nevertheless, Opel does appear to be on something of a product roll at the moment, with most of their range either brand new or significantly refreshed. Next year will see a new Insignia based on a lightweight platform, likely to further damage the Mondeo. Ford on the other hand appear tardy in their model plans, and with seemingly little of significance in the immediate offing, their European lineup lacks sparkle.

The Mondeo has staged something of a sales revival despite seen as being evolutionary, but for how long? And with mainstream European rivals fielding ever more up to date offerings, Ford faces a much tougher sales environment over the coming twenty four months, begging the question of how long they can protect it without resorting to incentives?

One Ford‘ has saved the Blue Oval $millions in development costs globally, but global models seem to have limited appeal for European customers. GM’s approach is more expensive, but seems to be giving them the volume, if not the profitability they crave. But with Henry becoming ever more US-centric, Ford looks in danger of gifting large swathes of the Euro market to its bitter US rival. Could there be a middle way?

*Figures sourced via ANDC/JATO dynamics/left-lane.com
**Ford.com

Note: 2015 sales data have been modified to reflect full-year figures.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

24 thoughts on “Can the Mondeo Stage a Comeback?”

  1. I don’t see a viable alternative to One Ford. After all, the big German makers seem to have cracked selling the same 3 series or E class globally and it’s not done them any harm. Could a European-only Mondeo survive in today’s market? Probably not.

    Incidentally, I spent some time in Brazil last summer, where the Mondeo/Fusion (whatever they call it there) looks like a shark amongst shoals of more modest hatchbacks.It has finally become the large-format sedan that remains so popular in the US and elsewhere.

    In Europe, this means it is probably half-a-size too big for our historic cities and narrow roads. Really, the Mondeo is the modern day Granada – a spacious flagship for Ford. How many sales did that car achieve in its heyday?

  2. Most of Opel’s line-up is sold in some form in the US. The new 2+2 shown in Detroit might come here. The grille only needs an Opel propellor flash. But Opel promising a Monzoid car in Geneva. You can sell a medium-sized European car in the US. Ford might find the reverse is not the case. The new Insignia will be a more popular car in that class.

  3. The Truth About Cars recently noted that in the American market, the current Fusion/Mondeo has grown into the segment previously occupied by the Taurus, rendering the Taurus redundant. That most certainly means that the Mondeo is too big for European tastes. Vauxhall/Opel reached this epoch with the unloved last Vectra and learned from their mistake. The Insignia was noticeably reduced in size (visually if not in actuality) and is probably as large as the European market wants. It is also still a fine looking car even at this advanced age, and also received a sympathetic midlife upgrade to its interior. Coupled with GM’s usual aggressive pricing policy, the Insignia asserts itself as a viable proposition for both hearts and minds. Indeed, I often wonder why the CUV buying crowds do not consider opting for an Insignia Tourer and a near ten grand discount.

  4. In reply to Jacomo, Richard and Johann: The current Mondeo is a very imposing looking car and I’d agree that it’s become a latter-day Granada. In my view ‘One Ford’ might be financially expedient, but it imposes a one-car fits all policy, which is not only falling short of overtaking Opel, but is failing to make inroads on the segment leader. Even with a following wind, Mondeo sales in 2015 will come in well below 80,000 cars – Opel should manage something in the region of 85,000 units – a good result for a car so late in its model cycle.

    Neither of course come even close to VW’s all conquering Passat. With around 36% of the European D-segment and sales to November of 205,792, the Passat is unassailable – NOxgate notwithstanding.

    Perhaps I should have mentioned the Passat’s dominance in the piece, but I assumed everybody knew this already.

    1. But why don’t customers complain that their Mercedes, BMW or Audi is a one-size-fits-all compromise? And is it time for the return of the Focus saloon? Could they do a good job this time and create a properly good-looking 4 door version? It would be about the right size for Europe.

    2. That’s an interesting question. In my view, it suggests a prejudice within the market. Customers seem happy for Audi and BMW to make iterative changes, but expect the wheel to be reinvented by the poverty brands. Were this not so, why was Ford criticised for the new Mondeo’s evolutionary appearance? There’s little question it’s anything but a good car, but the sales figures do suggest a degree of customer reticence. Whether this is a function of its perceived size or styling I cannot tell.

      Here in the republic, the Focus Saloon never went away. The current model is about the size of a Sierra – about right for this Country. In saloon form it’s quite neatly proportioned and you’re spared those ghastly tail-lamps. The question remains – would it sell in markets like the UK?

    3. Focus/Astra/Golf saloon derivatives are a tough sell in Germany. However, in the eastern part of the country, the former GDR, they do make an appearance on public roads.

      My theory behind this acceptance is that, as in other countries of the former Eastern Bloc, the very definition of an automobile remained three-box-shaped, thanks to the Trabants, Wartburgs, Ladas and Volgas, unlike in the western parts of Europe, where the hatchback would eventually come to define the lesser end of the mass motoring spectrum (which, in the east, would constitute public transport or bikes).

      It does appear as though most countries of Western Europe share a higher acceptance of the hatchback concept than the rest of the world, which in turn leads to the rejection of the small saloon.

  5. I fear for Ford in Europe as its lustre, if indeed it has had any these last 10 years, has been smothered by the progress of other marques. The Mondeo is the most exposed model of this phenomenon in its range. The last outstanding selling point for Fords was the excellence of their chassis set up, but as each model us replaced by respective “One Ford” models, that sharpness and yes suppleness of drive and clarity steering has been diluted. There are now, many more desirable cars even in the D-Category these days – the Mondeo is a good car, but no longer in any way outstanding – in fact it is so middling as to be unlikely to be the first choice buy of anyone anymore. Value brands such as Kia, Hyundai and, most notably, Skoda now offer a car with stronger key selling points and barely a significant compromise these days. I predict a slow withdrawal of this model in certain European markets, much as Renault has implemented for the Laguna/ Talisman.

  6. Speaking of Skoda – isn’t the Superb’s only USP sheer size? So “too big” can’t be the reason for Ford’s lacklustre sales record, not the only one, at least.

    1. The thing with the Superb is that it doesn’t look gargantuan. It is very well proportioned to hide its bulk. The Mondeo? Fat arse and with the whole whale being body colour (without a black valance around the bottom to hide the bulk) it well, looks like a whale. Nah this Mondeo does nothing for me. The Passat and Superb both infinitely better looking.

  7. I’d argue that, compared to the Mondeo, the Superb is a higher quality product, has more interior space, more efficient, cheaper trim for trim and what more people would describe as being better looking. It also benefits – still from prospects thinking that they are amongst the cognoscenti for buying an “Audi

    1. …. underneath” at a much lower price point. Ford has no such halo brand to feed from.

  8. I’ve just checked my notes from a drive from Geneva to Nice in 2009 in an early example of the previous generation Mondeo:

    “The Mondeo and its competitors have become the Panamax freight ships of the automotive world, enlarged to the maximum dimensions that European roads and parking spaces can accommodate. Does Europe really need American-sized saloons, without the compensating virtue of the near-obligatory 3.5+ litre250bhp V6?”

    The sudden collapse of the non-premium D segment was the big story of the time – the smart money would have been on the third generation Mondeo being the last.

    Wind on six years, and they’ve done it again. Not long ago I spoke to a Ford salesman who told me that, on realising how huge and unwieldy his next generation Mondeo company car was going to be, he requested a Fiesta ST instead. He told me that customers don’t want to downsize to a Focus, as it looks as if they’ve gone down in the world. He was just hoping that Mondeo recusants could be persuaded in to Kugas and S-Maxes, rather than the very easily affordable German midliners.

    1. “Panamax” is a super description.
      That the Fiesta has supplanted the Focus at the top of the UK sales tree is very much down to their respective sizes. The Focus mark 1 was spot on in terms of size. The larger mark 2 was quickly perceived as a Min-deo, an impression the current model did little dispel. Meanwhile, the current Fiesta is somewhere near the mark 1 Focus in size. For most UK buyers, that is just about enough.

  9. There are lots of good comments here.
    To drive the second Focus felt like one had a fat suit on. In fairness the Mk3 looks worse but is more wieldy.
    I tested a Mondeo in 2010 and noted how wide it felt (and scraped it partly because it was too big for a multistory carpark).
    Opel’s Insignia is big. They hide it well.
    As I said before but will repeat, the late 90s to early 00s generation struck the best balance of size and room.

    1. Richard, I just had to google it to remind myself what it looked like! Obviously, not a success. Yes, it wasn’t bad (much better than the Mk1 Focus 4 door, which was hideous), but not particularly enticing. This might have been because the only version available featured mandatory light blue metallic paint and 16″ wheels. I wonder how an ST or RS version would have turned out? Anyhow, I guess no one in Europe buys them.

  10. The Focus Mk2 saloon looked okay to me. Pretty neat and in Ghia spec, a nice drive. Have you seen the Astra saloon of the same time? That had a similarly effective design. What’s an example of a good FWD mid-sizer?

    1. Alfa 156 sets the standard. Other than that, I think the VW Bora had a certain appeal (and the V5-engined model especially… a kind of gentleman’s GTI). For current models, probably the Mazda 3 and Volvo S40 are the pick of models available in Europe.

  11. Jacomo: I think the 156 is a delight. I have to ask if it’s fair to compare as the 156 was designed as a saloon and cost more. The Focus had to serve as a 5-door and cost less. You´re on firmer ground with the Bora (1999-2006). And here I have to go out to my imaginary car showroom and stare at the Bora and Focus saloon for a long time to compare them. About the Mazda 3: the last saloon (circa 2003-2008) looked right. I love the wing line: it´s almost horizontal and then falls away beautifully.

    1. You’re right, the 156 is perhaps an unfair comparison. I’ve been trying to think of a car that has both a 4 and 5 door version of equal beauty. A4/A5 is probably the best… for all its other faults, the A5 five door is a delicious piece of design.

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