Up-selling Henry

With news that Ford’s upmarket Vignale line is falling below expectations, are the wheels already coming off the Blue Oval’s last chance saloon?

Mondeo Vignale. Image: premierford
Mondeo Vignale. Image: premierford

The key to viability in the European car market is finding ways to encourage customers to pay more. Easier said than done. According to a report last week in Automotive News, a JATO Dynamics analysis states the average UK customer pays £25, 400 for a mainstream brand D-segment car. By contrast, the average spend on a premium branded car of similar size was 36% higher. 

What isn’t made clear is whether those differentials are a function of a premium brand’s higher base price, lack of discounting or option takeup, but nevertheless, JATO’s metrics make dispiriting reading for Ford and their ilk; findings showing the combined sales of premium D-segment cars last year outstripped those of the mainstream for the first time. Half year European sales for 2016 bring further gloom; figures for Mondeo to June showing the model is flatlining a mere two years into its life. So has the endgame has begun in earnest?

Having seen their costbase shrink in the aftermath of the PAG firesale, Ford bosses could only watch helplessly as others reaped the dividends owed to them had they not let go of what they thought they knew. Perhaps prudently, Ford have opted not to sell cars under the Lincoln brand on this side of the Atlantic, yet desperately lack an upmarket offering. Hence Vignale.

Launched last year on the Mondeo model, Ford’s marketers anticipated the Vignale line to account for 10% of sales. But Ford’s UK sales head, Kevin Griffin told Automotive News last week that UK sales for the Mondeo Vignale in the year to June are running at between 2 and 3%, a good way short of projections. But is this really a surprise? Frankly the idea that UK customers – perhaps the most brand-aware in (or out of) Europe would rush to buy a ‘brougham-ised’ Mondeo seems a little naive, which is puzzling given that Ford is not a company I’m predisposed to accuse of naivety.

It’s probably a little premature to be writing obituaries just yet, but what we can say without fear of hyperbole is that Vignale hasn’t exactly leaped out of the starting blocks. 10% of sales is a nice aspirational figure to aim for but is likely to be well above Ford’s break-even point for the line. Given how relatively inexpensive the Vignale concept is by comparison to say the Citroën option, even a modest percentage uptake could represent profit worth having.

Image: busseys
Image: busseys

Griffin says he expects the percentage of Vignale sales to increase as additional models are given the blusher and eyeliner treatment. Already the S-Max Vignale has been launched and we can expect the SUV model lines to follow suit. One thing as yet unclear is how far down the range Vignale can be stretched. The forthcoming 2017 Fiesta is believed to be more upmarket than the outgoing model, but cost implications raises the question of whether the numbers work at this price point. Having said that, a brougham Fiesta would be a rather fine thing.

Back in 2009, Alan Mulally looked like the smartest man on the block having negotiated the sale of Ford’s loss-making prestige marques. Seven years on and the decision doesn’t look anywhere near as clever. But it’s too late for hand-wringing now. Done is done. Ford might as well execute the hell out of this plan because there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of options.

Our American cousins nostalgically refer to the ‘Great Brougham Epoch’ – a period when tinselled (mostly Ford) sedans ruled the turnpikes. For many, these luxury liners represented a final flowering for the US industry before the malaise-era set in. Is Vignale set to be Ford’s upmarket European swansong? It’s looking increasingly likely.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

41 thoughts on “Up-selling Henry”

  1. We touched on the general gist of this recently. Ford’s idea is right. The execution is not quite as it could be. They needed a difference in the body to make Vignale more than merely a trim level. They’ve emphasised Vignale by removing the Mondeo labels. It still looks like a Mondeo. Audi and BMW get people to pay more for their mid-rangers by using body variants: that’s why they have five-door “coupes”. Ditto VW’s Passat CC.

    1. Yes – it should look more like a 4-door Mustang. Oh wait, it already does… And yet it doesn’t. Point taken.

  2. Laurent: did a Ford source insinuate the Mondeo should be seen as Mustang cousin, visually? A shooting brake would have been an option, keeping lots of estate bits and allowing the future use of front doors if the market’s appetite warranted.

    1. “did a Ford source insinuate the Mondeo should be seen as Mustang cousin, visually?”

      No, I don’t think so – quite the contrary. But as the Mustang is nothing more than a coupé Mondeo, it’s easy to imagine Ford stretching the approach further and launching one of those (oxy)moronic 4-door coupés which are all the rage nowadays (well, almost). A bit like what the Audi A7 is to A6, or the A5 to the A4.

    2. The Mustang really isn’t a coupe Mondeo, it’s an entirely different car.

      Vignale is poorly conceived and executed. It’s an expensive trim level bundled in with dubious service enhancements… from memory, these were highlighted as a special lounge area in Ford dealerships and some sort of concierge-type service.

      Really? Who, in their right mind, wants to hang around in a Ford dealership? And those customers who do venture through the doors – how do they respond to the most inviting and comfortable area of the show room being behind a rope?

      Ford needs to build cars that customers want, and work on marginal gains in satisfaction for all its customers… making an extra £100 or so per Fiesta transaction would go a lot further than hitting the sales targets for this expensive folly.

    3. Have you seen this Vignale area at a dealer?

      That is it. Two glass screens, two sofas and an interactive table. Oh yes that will make me buy an expensive car with vinyl looking 1991 Ford Fiesta L seat coverings…

    4. Ah right, I thought the Mustang was built on the same ‘global’ platform as the Mondeo. Only a matter of time though (and as I imagine in keeping with the original concept). Still, from a styling point of view at least they are somehow related, without the Mustang looking commonplace as a result, which is the approach I suggested should be explored further by Ford.

  3. I’ve said it here before but you will never in a million years convince someone to buy a premium car what those dreadful base-spec seat facings! It makes the low rent cabin look just that: low rent. Sorry Ford but it shows you have NO idea what perceived quality is. If this thing doesn’t look luxury even on a photo there is no way it will work in the metal. And I’ve been in these in the metal and they are as dreadful as they look in the photos.

    1. To be fair, I found a lot to like in the Vignale. However, the equivalent Ghia Granada was more alluring, absolutely and relatively.
      The Vignale “area” is a bit unconvincing. Such problems lead to needing a separate dealership.

  4. “Given how relatively inexpensive the Vignale concept is by comparison to say the Citroën option”

    You mean the DS range/brand?

    1. Laurent: yes.

      Richard: Ford are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Assuming they gave Vignale a distinct style, the press would still sneer, ‘it’s just a Mondeo underneath’, or similar as they did with the X-Type. Henry can’t afford sheet metal changes, so it’s trim to the max or nothing.

      I suspect Ford’s product planners have pitched Vignale almost entirely at business users, who may be better prepared to take the hit depreciation-wise. Private buyers are in the main, far too brand conscious to fall for some embossed and pleated leather and the prospect of free car washes forever – or whatever this concierge service offers. Try explaining Vignale to your neighbours or down at the local 5-a-side on a Saturday morning. Try getting people to pronounce it for a start. I recall folk having all sorts of fun with Bertone back home in Ireland in the day…

      And another thing, where’s the vinyl roof?

  5. Eoin: I don’t think people really care about cars any more, not as a public topic.
    There will always be some people who’ll criticise a Ford. I don’t they’ll ever change. However, a distinctly different body would satisfy agnostics shopping among brands.

  6. Vignale should be a luxury trim level, like S-Line or M-Power is supposedly a sporty trim level. Pretending that it is anything else is pure hubris. And by all means make sure there is one in each dealership, but don’t fence the cars off like diseased cattle. I suspect that Ford will find more takers when their SUVs are Vignale-ified. Buyers in that segment are far keener to scoop up and throw big gobs of cash at their dealers, especially if the PCP stays reasonable.
    I take issue with the received wisdom that Fords are poor inside. Styling wise, yes, their interiors can be dubious. But have you sat inside a 3 Series recently? I was shocked at the appalling interior trim: nasty plastics abound. The 3-aping Jaguar XE is similar, obviously taking its cue from the low standard set by Bavaria. An Audi A4 can be nice if you tick all the options boxes, but otherwise there is far too much silver-painted plastic, like a mid-1990s Philips stereo. Only Mercedes consistently makes a decent fist of perceived quality, for the dashboard at least.

    1. I am not entirely up to speed with the Vignale ‘concept’ but from the few news snippets I have read, I assumed that’s exactly what it was – no more than a trim level. Once you strip away the PR bollocks, is this really anything other than a new-age Cortina Ghia? As per Chris, I see very little rationale for treating this as anything more than a new top-level trim spec.

      In any case, from afar, the issue seems less the quality of the execution in this specific case, and more just another chapter in the continued decline of plebeian D-segment saloons. One assumes a good deal of current Mondeo production is straight-to-fleet, flat-white, microscopic-steelies stripper spec (think unbadged, grey-grille Sierras, for those of us who remember such things). That is to say that while Mondeo sales have declined over the past decade or so, I’m confident that proportionally, higher-level trims have copped a much bigger hit than the lower grades.

      Incidentally, to get an idea of how optimistic the 10 percent target is and was, that’s the sort of percentage the XR3 was selling relative to total UK Escort sales at the XR’s peak in the mid-1980s. Regardless of its other qualities, the Vignale is no XR3 in terms of market appeal.

  7. I still think the Mondeo/Fusion should be a five door Mustang, as per the template set by the Falcon back in the day. Nobody needs a car that big, but with RWD and enough pose they might just want one. It’s amazing how nostalgic people can still be about their Sierras because they were a hoot on a wet roundabout. When you spend your time traipsing between out of town business parks linked by the M6, that sort of thing makes all the difference.

    1. From your comment, Chris, it occurs that it would be nice if every entrance to a Motorway Services had two options. One straight in and another one that involves negotiating a double S bend and a wet roundabout. As you say, these little things make all the difference, and I’d be far more likely to break my journey with such an incentive. It could be funded from the cost of recovering the cars from the ditch.

  8. I always thought that splitting up the PAG-group was a very bad idea. Or rather, I think the concept was right, the problem is Ford didn’t seem to know how to do the right thing with the brands. But Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin are very strong brands. In the right hands, I don’t think there’s an end to all the money they could make….

    1. Ingvar: It’s difficult to know for sure what the problem was with PAG. My own feeling is that Ford senior management only thought as far as obtaining the brands, but had no overarching plan for how they could be developed without stepping on all kinds of toes, to say nothing of the cost implications. They also developed a conqueror mentality with their acquisitions and underestimated the level of resistance they would face from the vanquished. To compound matters, in taking on so many separate marques within such a short space of time, there was no way resources could be sufficiently allocated to each to allow them to really maximise their potential. There were too many plates to keep spinning, so it was all make do and mend. The proof of this is the current success of JLR and Volvo under their current (more focused) management.

      However, Ford’s investment, such as it was, did lay the groundwork for their current success, especially in JLR’s case. FOMoCo may have had little choice when they offloaded their English Patient in 2007, but they must bitterly regret it now.

    2. But the ironic thing is that a lot of the success of the ex-PAG brands is due to the groundwork that Ford put in. Unlike GM, who impoverished their ‘premium’ brands then dumped them on someone else, Ford treated them with care – just the wrong sort in places. If they had persisted, and entrusted planning to focussed people who understood the market, there’s no reason to believe that PAG couldn’t be flourishing today – but it all reeked of everyone having an opinion, from the top down. I like Fords in principle, and I like a bit of comfort, but I still find something a bit cheesy and 70s about The Vig-nah-lee

    3. When the mega profits that sustained the PAG acquisition spree suddenly dried up in the mid 1990s, Ford found itself fighting battles on too many fronts. Then Dearborn had one of its periodic spasmodic boardroom putsches and that was that for PAG. Sure the sales yielded a billion or three for Ford, but that was surely a drop in the ocean compared to how much had already been ploughed in?

  9. Ford seemed to want to push the brands to share too much hardware and from the wrong source. They have a hard time managing Ford and Lincoln: Lincolns are not very much more than Mercuries were at the lower price ranges.

    1. There was nothing inherently wrong with sharing the DEW platform between the Lincoln LS and S-Type. In fact, the platform was very good, remaining competitive well into old age with the XF. The chassis and engines were also excellent. It is just a shame that Ford did not have a clue how best to use them.

  10. Actually, I can criticise Ford. It is totally scandalous what they did to the Lanchester brand. Having not made a car since the early 50s, and passing through the hands of BSA, Jaguar, BMC, British Leyland, etc, here was a chance for the brand to be revitalised. Yet they bottled out. Tata, it’s in your hands now …. we’re waiting.

  11. “I still find something a bit cheesy and 70s about The Vig-nah-lee”

    Pronounced that way it is definitely cheesy…

    1. And I suppose you’ve got problems with “Renn-Alt”, “Pew-Jo” and ‘Sit-Roan” too. Look mate, we just voted to have sovereignty over our own pronunciation, OK.

  12. “Look mate, we just voted to have sovereignty over our own pronunciation, OK.”

    Well you never really relinquished that one so no change there…

  13. Stradale: Interestingly, Autocar reports today that Ford UK have dropped the two poverty level trim levels from the Fiesta. Why? Reportedly (a) to avoid tripping on the forthcoming KA+’s toes and (b) because the Studio and Style trim levels only represent 1 & 2% of UK Fiesta sales respectively for the year to July. The now base-line Zetec model accounted for 58% and the current top-line Titanium, 21%. (I presume these figures are sourced from Ford themselves). This of course is a prelude to the next-gen Festie attempting to move further upmarket.

    Now these figures may have little or no bearing on Mondeo sales – a good proportion of which may well be as you describe. However, this isn’t necessarily borne out by the Mondeo’s I see about here in the UK and Republic of Ireland – which are in the main, mid-spec and above.

    1. I’d agree. Customers are spending or Ford is luring buyers with extra features. Or both. That said, few such cars appear basic in the way base-model Sierras did in the 80s. And Granadas had a huge and visible range of trim levels. When you bought an L everyone could see it; ditto a Ghia X.

    2. Interesting, ta. I still think Ford-badged D-seggers are a tough sell when specced up into spinning propeller territory.

  14. Scoop pictures of the new Fiesta are quite depressing. I think Ford has lost its way … on a number of fronts. Vignale is the new Ghia – all that dealer experience bollocks will be gone within 24 months. Sad.

    1. I agree on the Fiesta scoop photos. It is just a Russian doll mini version of the existing Focus… Sigh.

      As to the Vignale being the new Ghia. I don’t think for one moment the average Ford buyer don’t realise this. It is just a trim level once you drive out the dealer showroom and left that ridiculous sofa.

    2. Ouch…
      At least they resisted the temptation to make it look SUVish. But that’s about the only positive thing I can say about it. Without that grille, it could just be any car. Graft on a Mercedes, Hyundai or Renault front, none would look wrong.

  15. As if by magic – I just landed in Lyon and parked next to my taxi was a Vignale Mondeo, the first I have seen … And it looked very nice … as a trim level.

  16. Chris, in the Fiesta, it’s just that the new one looks like a more stolid and weighty version of the current ‘sprinty’ car.

    1. True. I hope Ford will learn (or unlearn) from the current Focus and make extra efforts to remove visual bulk. The current Mondeo/Fusion is not a good example of that, partly because it is so bloody massive.

  17. Hey Ford, since the Vignale sucks and you don’t bring Lincoln out of the North American / Middle Eastern markets, you should consider buying Lancia to go upscale. A posh compact, one midsized family with a droptop and an Integrale sharing the Focus RS underpinnings, two saloons (one of them, an evolution of your RWD Australian platform) and a SUV. All of them with Italian styling and leather, high-pressure turbos and the Parry-Jones-inherited chassis development. What about that?

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