Ford’s recent ad-campaign urges us to let go of what we know about the Blue Oval. It seems to be working, but maybe not as intended.
Superficially at least, Ford’s European fortunes appear resurgent, but leaving aside corporate spin and fatuous ad campaigns, there’s little substitute for a bit of hard data. So with this (and those commercials) in mind, it might be worth looking at Ford’s first quarter European sales figures to see what, if anything can be read from the metaphorical tea leaves. And sure enough, with two model lines holding top spot in their respective sectors, three in third place, and five individual lines posting notable percentage gains, there are reasons to be cheerful in Merkenich.
A closer examination however suggests a slightly more nuanced scenario. Ford’s traditional car models, which represent the Blue Oval’s bedrock are, Mondeo apart, stagnating at best, or in the case of the soon to be discontinued Ka, collapsing. The Fiesta, while holding first position in the B-segment, is likely to lose it this year to VW’s resurgent Polo. The dowdy looking Focus has also slipped, losing number two spot to Opel’s more attractive new Astra. The only real bright spot is the performance of Mondeo, outselling its fading GM arch-rival at last. Tempering celebrations however is the fact that not only has Mondeo conclusively failed to dent the VW Passat’s unassailable position, it has also been leapfrogged by the hugely successful Skoda Superb, which now occupies second position behind its MBQ sibling.
Outside traditional formats, the news is equally mixed. Ford’s new S-Max has hit the ground at some velocity, powering it to a comfortable number one in its segment. The smaller C-Max is also going well, holding fourth place one sector below. However, the compact B-Max, competing in a segment which itself is shrinking rapidly, lost 14% of last year’s volume. With compact MPVs being cannibalised by junior CUVs, it’s possible Ford may opt not to replace the model.
Over in the CUV sandpit the news is more upbeat, although only a little. The Kuga, despite posting a significant rise over the same period last year, hasn’t damaged VW’s outgoing Tiguan, which in run-out mode still outsells it. Ford also remain well adrift of the successful KIA/Hyundai duo and Nissan’s eternal Qashqai. In the junior leagues, the revamped EcoSport has doubled sales from a woefully low base, but in a sector which is showing the fastest growth of any across the region, it poses no threat whatsoever to the all-conquering Renault Captur.
Apart from reflecting underlying trends across the region, what does any of the above really tell us? Naturally, it would be foolish to read too much into first quarter figures, but it does suggest Ford’s mainstream car range, Mondeo apart, is losing ground. Both Fiesta and Focus, (both uniformly excellent cars), are far from fresh and replacements, (which seem likely to retain similar styling), remain some way off. But even where the Blue oval is doing well, they are falling well short of market leaders.
Ford should have been in a position to capitalise on VW’s reputational woes, but the reach and appeal of VW’s vast range seems to have made them virtually impervious to the intrigue swirling around them. Ford claims to be sacrificing volume for profit, and certainly, what sales figures cannot tell is who isn’t playing fair. But pricing is only one side of the coin. The real profit lies with upselling. Renault have experienced a significant uptake on the top-spec Initiale Paris trim line, but at present there’s an eerie silence on the performance of Ford’s Vignale equivalent.
Ford’s marketers have ploughed $millions into a campaign urging us to Unlearn our prejudices and orthodoxies about the marque. If this campaign has worked at all, (and there’s little to suggest it has), it appears to be having the effect of turning people away from Ford’s mainstream models. But far from pointing them towards their more profitable lines, it’s propelling them into the arms of rivals. Telling people what you’re not is of little use if you are incapable of coherently defining what you are.
Perhaps it’s time to unlearn Unlearn.
2016 Q1 sales data can be viewed in detail at left-lane.com