Manchester, various hiding places in

2019 might seem so very far away now. Who knows what the world will be like then. One thing we do know now is that Ford won’t be present at the 2019 Geneva motor show.

Ideal for the streets of London, Berlin and Dublin! Source

“Ford said the decision was made because the show’s timing didn’t fit its launch schedule and therefore wouldn’t represent good value,” wrote Automotive News Europe. Not launching enough cars, then Ford, eh? Furthermore, we need double quote marks for this next bit: “‘It costs a sizeable amount of money,’ a Ford of Europe spokesman said. ‘If you’re not going make a return on the investment in terms of media attention or people on the stand, why do it?’”.

Sizeable is relative. It costs lots of money in relation to my annual salary, yes, but a few million euros for some wooden stands and pretty ladies in Lycra is a rounding error in Ford’s turn-over, no?

In 2017 the car world rocked a bit when it was announced PSA would buy Opel. Since then people have wondered about Ford of Europe who are not the powerhouse in the region they once were.

Five years ago the idea of Opel being anything other than part of GM was unthinkable now we see them being digested by PSA’s Borg with incredible swiftness. In that light, Ford making the decision to not bother with Geneva ’19 and to not bother making a proper Mondeo for Europe do add up to small bits of evidence of a firm losing confidence in its European bastion.

17 miles per gallon efficiency.

I’d like to widen this discussion out to a critique made by the 45th president of the United States recently. That president was quoted as being unhappy that Europeans sold lots of their cars in Europe but that American cars were not sold in the EU to the same exent. “UNFARE!!”

There are two points prompted by this kind of statement. One is a matter of boring fact, that the US does sell cars in Europe: Fords and, until recently, Opels. At one point they had 10% of various EU markets too. All the profits went back to the US along with the engineering expertise involved (cynics will ask “what profits?” – I will get to that bit in a moment).

FCA sells American-made cars in Europe as well, or tries to. And the number one seller of electrical cars in Europe is probably Tesla. If they aren’t, they still sell lots of them as well.

17 miles per gallon too.

The second point is more to do with the problems of high-level leadership. High-level leaders such as the 45th president of the United States and many others (he is not alone in this weakness) live in a world of generalities. They have people to fix the discrepancies between the generalities they base their wishes on and the particulars of the actual world they glide around in.  Good high-level leaders keep in mind the existence of particulars. Careless ones find such things an affront to their dignity.

Unreliable, fragile rubbish but it has a smallish engine and isn´t too big.

In the case of the 45th president’s bitterness about US cars not selling in Europe, he forgets that while many cars designed for Europe can be driven in the US easily, many cars designed for Americans don’t suit Europe at all.

A generality is that big things don’t go into little things. A particularity is that European cities have narrower streets and American cities have wider streets. So, annoying as it may seem to a leader who lives in a world of generalities, it is an unavoidable fact that bigger, optimised-for-America cars will not fit in well to the European road network.

Further, a historical particularity is that Europe does not produce much oil and the US does. Thus in Europe we favour smaller engines. In the US a large engine is more feasible. So, both in terms of dimensions and engine capacities, the most American of American cars, made in in America will never sell well in the EU. Even if we dropped the price of petrol to a euro a gallon, the cars aren’t going to fit on the roads.

Simple geography says that American cars optimised for the US-market should be made in the US to keep transport costs down. Even if Europeans wanted those cars and could drive them on their narrower roads, they’d cost too much compared to a comparable European or Japanese car.

There are no reasons why optimised-for-the-US, made-in-the-US cars will ever sell in Europe. European firms and Japanese firms have invested billions in the US and even made cars to suit US tastes. The most Buicky car on sale in the US is a Toyota Avalon and it’s made in Kentucky.

Those particulars being so, the European makers (German, actually) are not unfairly overselling to the US. Americans gleefully buy our fragile, overpriced tat because they like it. American firms did at one point cater to the European market by designing and making (often very good) cars for Europe and now seem to have lost the knack.

They did once send billions back to Detroit every year. In the same period as Ford and GM have given up, the Japanese and Koreans have become more than capable of designing cars for Europe and selling them, even to the French and Italians.

Europeans buy these

Out of all this, I conclude it is possible to make cars around the world and sell them to Europeans, in principle and practice. If the US buys “too many” European cars it’s not the fault of the European makers who, it seems, don´t even make very good cars anyway (too costly, too unreliable etc). They happen to be the right size and drive well enough. If the US exports too few American-optimised cars to the EU it’s not because we hate America.

It’s because we have narrower roads, higher fuel prices and are fussy about detail finish. History, culture and geography in action. If American-owned firms can’t make a profit in one of the richest parts of the world then the fault is in their management (not the engineers they employ locally) and their attitude.

Particulars matter: careless British, Italian and French engineers sent to the US cars unsuited to life on those roads and were crucified in the market. GM and Ford’s attempts to sell US-market cars in the EU have always been half-baked. Make a Euro-Cadillac and we’ll buy it. But Detroit doesn’t want to bother.

Ford deciding to stay away from Geneva in 2019 is a sign Ford doesn’t think Europe is worth it. The particularities I mentioned probably annoy people like the 45th president and the executives in Dearborn who’d like to sell the same Taurus and F-150 from California to Croatia. But the world is made of particulars and generalities don’t map backwards.

If the US wants to sell more cars in the EU, study the conditions and make cars that the customers want. There is nothing more to it than that.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “Manchester, various hiding places in”

  1. I remember US manufacturers complaining about trade barriers in Japan at a time when the smallest US car on offer in Japan was a five-point-something litre Chevy Impala in a world of Kei cars.

  2. I couldn’t imagine FCA selling that clunky RAM tank in Europe, without even sliding doors so useful for our narrower supermarket parks. I’ve never seen one.
    And even the diesel’s economy would be considered astronomically bad.
    Yes, the POTUS 45 obviously doesn’t do detail, or even common sense.

    Btw, US suddenly has its own oil supply problems, so Trump’s asked Saudis to up theirs.

    1. To be fair, the Ram 3.0L “EcoDiesel” is an exceptionally thrifty thing for such a very large vehicle. People crest 30MPG (US, so around 36MPG UK) in them, and they’re much more comfortable on road than the Van-based IVECO style units.

      However, they’re very long and wide, and would be an absolute chore on most European roads. Hell, they suck to drive in many American cities, too!

    2. Glad to hear there is an economical choice. In Europe that would carry a price premium; does it Stateside?

      On vehicle sizes, I might as well start here, as I don’t read about it anywhere.
      They’re getting wider everywhere, entirely because of obesity, which afflicts a quarter of many countries’ populations.

      There’s a taboo on discussing this, on the spurious grounds that it’s “fat shaming”. So the UK’s Which? and France’s 60m Consommateurs and Que Choisir? are silent.

      But the less wide 75% must put up with vehicles which were designed for someone else, the Wider People (WPs), which lowers their fuel economy, makes them less practical, and adds to global warming in several ways.

      Standing by for incoming…

    3. @magotanvw,

      Well done for pointing out that the US gallon is smaller than the imperial gallon, so these reported consumption figures are not as catastrophic as they appear.

      We should probably all be measuring fuel consumption in terms of km per litre, but we don’t seem to have got there yet.

  3. I feel like this is a very tricky proposition, and it has less to do with actual sales, but profitability.

    45 is an awful president, and I think it’s very strange how everyone likes to forget that Ford is American, and consistently is one of the top selling brands in the EuroZone.

    GM cut Opel/Vauxhall because they hadn’t made a profit since 1999. Despite healthy sales, I get the gist the Opel was used more for a development arm, rather than actually creating profitable vehicles for Europe. European engineers did a lot of legwork on GM chassis, particularly small and medium sized cars.

    However, GM Shanghai, GM Korea, and GM Detroit finally started hiring talent and paying attention on how to design a car. I personally drive a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ, and it’s honest-to-goodness a good small car. The car feels well finished, and sharp to drive. The GM Gamma II platform it rides on initially started life as a product from GM Europe, but GM Korea did most of the legwork as far as design and finishing goes. Same with the Chevrolet Cruze I and Cruze II.

    The Sonic (still sold as Aveo in certain markets) is so much better of a car than the Aveo was.

    It begged the question; what is the point of GM Europe? The American and Korean teams are just as good as creating a well-reviewed, well made, competent product. The EU were kind of cold on cars like the Aveo II and Cruze (partially because the EU models were budget friendly, and thus had some of the more pricier design and refinement choices cut from them to not step on the toes of the Astra and Corsa).

    I get the gist that Vauxhall and Ford are notorious for very big discounts in the UK. Ford is also notorious for that as well in the US, and they still move a lot of units, but at least in the US we have big trucks that are cheap to make and have insane profit margins. Ford doesn’t have that in Europe. How many Focus or Fiesta Vingales do they really expect to sell? They don’t even have Lincoln, either, with their large profit margins.

    Ford was selling 500K car shaped things annually in the US. If you can’t make any money on any of them ever, what’s the point of high sales?

    With that said, 45’s lack of research is incredibly frustrating. Mercedes and BMW export a great deal of cars; particularly SUV’s back to Europe. A great deal of BMW/MB SUV’s sold there were made in the USA.

    Not to mention, sadly, most buyers are gravitating away from sedan shapes anyways. And I’m pretty sure most BMW 3-series sold in the US actually come from South Africa.

  4. Also, not even us Americans want Cadillacs. Cadillac sedans sit on dealer lots, and their SUV lineup is mediocre compared to Lincoln’s.

    They’re not *bad* vehicles, they just don’t really stand out in any way.

    1. I find the lack of love for Cadillac quite sad.

      They are offering probably the best line up they’ve had for 40 years, but sales are flat lining.

      Mind you, it’s not the most *logical* line up. You have to be really on your game to understand why there is a CTS, CT6 and XTS, and how they differ from each other. And an ATS sedan, with its overtly ‘sporty’ theme, is about as far from an Escallade (Uber for rich people) as you can imagine.

  5. I’ve always thought it was insulting that we don’t have motor show in the UK any more. Not worth the effort, presumably.

    On another, related topic, according to vauxpedia, Vauxhall look like they are going to leave their head office in Luton and are also looking to relocate their heritage collection. I wonder where they’ll go.

    I’m looking forward to reading the S-Class article, later on. I need some time to do it justice.

    1. It might be unwelcome to have no motor show but it presumably reflects economic realities. I would be worried about Vauxhall´s heritage collection. Ditto Opel´s.

  6. “According to the commission analysis, European carmakers in the US produce 2.9m cars, about 26% of US production, supporting 120,000 US manufacturing jobs and 420,000 dealership jobs. EU-owned companies in the US export 60% of their production, helping the country’s trade balance, the paper states.”
    I am not sure why the EU has a 10% tariff on US-made cars or whether it is balanced by other US tariffs on some other EU products. The trade-war situation is very unsettling indeed. It won´t end well unless 45 changes his tack which is something I don´t believe he will do as long as he is in power.

  7. Jacomo: Cadillac drifted for three decades when the car world was ruled by saloons and coupes. Then GM turned the Cadillac ship around with, yes, some very good cars. That happened at the very moment people no longer wanted a Cadillac definition of the luxury saloon. That battle ought to have been won 15 years ago.
    Lincoln is in an even worse state. Lincoln now covers the price range of Mercury and all of its cars are obviously derived from cheaper Fords rather than Fords been seen as derived from pricier Lincolns.

  8. Ford’s decision to abandon Geneva is somewhat surprising, but has a certain logic. What is of greater import is the memorandum of understanding with Volkswagen, signed the week before last. Ford of Europe were not told of this development by the brass hats in Dearborn until the very last minute. I very much fear that Ford Motor Company is preparing to jettison its Old World division.

    1. The partnership with Ford is only for light commercial vehicles. Volkswagen previously had a tie-up with Mercedes. It makes sense to have a partner to spread the cost on lower volume vehicles like LCVs.

  9. The lights seem to have blinked their last in this sad tale.
    In part I blame the finance deals available on the American forecourts, most anything can be driven away for bugger all money down. The monthly rental payments reduce the car to the disposable level of a six month old mobile telephone.
    Why care about the industry when little passion is expended in the choice of the next over-styled whatever from wherever.
    The US industry was condemned by the mediocrity we sold them. European and Asiatic mediocrity talked up by advertising hyperbole, selling an exotic dream to people whose grasp on the concept of authenticity was squandered by those best placed to capitalise on it.
    GM struggled for too long as BLMC and BL did with a sprawling, infighting myriad of marques that had long past their best before dates, sacrificing genius and originality on the way to oblivion. Oldsmobile, Buick.. anyone remember the ‘64 Riviera?
    Fiat is possibly closer still to the Titanic loss of faith in the product. Fiat under Agnelli positively swaggered its way through the sixties and seventies much like the man himself.
    GM was Earl, Mitchell and Jordan. That the Design Supremos were household names speaks volumes of the confidence of the organisation that paid their salaries.
    The Day The Style Died is hard to pinpoint. The apogée of recent times has to be the Cadillac Sixteen. The last dream of the a car building Camelot.
    Trump will never admit to himself that a lack of pride in America of things American opened forever the door to that which he despises. Didn’t stop him bringing in his own grey import mind..

  10. Detroit makes so few actual cars of any kind they have essentially ceded that market in the US to foreign manufacturers or imports. It’s crossover and pickup truck time.

    FCA has only the 300/Challenger/Charger, and they’re made in Canada. The 500, a truly sick joke that was made in Mexico, sells in the dozens.

    Ford are about to can the Focus and Fusion, but the latter was made in Mexico anyway; Focus will come from China (maybe). Only the Mustang remains made in USA long term.

    GM has the Cruze, Sonic and Spark all Korean. Cadillac XTS along with Chevrolet Impala are made in Canada. They only make Camaro, ATS (now canned), CTS, CT6, Buick Lucerne/Lacrosse in the US (plus China) and the Opel Insignia disguised as the Chevrolet Malibu if you’d like one on the cheap.

    Add up all the actual cars made in the US and they might amount to 500K per annum in a 17 million market.

    Canada will be hit hard with Trump’s tariffs, much harder than Europe. Honda makes Civics and CRVs, Toyota the RAV4 and Lexus RX in Canada. Ford and GM make some crossovers. All exported to the US to some extent.

    Today we were lectured that applying tariffs to US items exported to Canada was all wrong. It’s quite all right for the US to apply tariffs to our steel and aluminum apparently, but we should not respond. Using Trumpian logic which devolves around the western world paying a tithe for the US defending us from the bad guys for seven decades, we should just hand over cash and be quiet about it. Europe faces the same illogic. And if we complain about it, then the US will leave the World Trade Organization, so that its illegal tariffs will no longer be illegal.

    As silly as it sounds, this is what I expect will happen anyway. Trump won’t change his mind. Everyone else must simply cave in. You cannot reason with him. So the worst will come to pass and the US will swing its weight around. It’ll be a step change in the way things have been since WW2. And don’t expect the next prez to be any better – the US is virtually bankrupt feeding 3 million military and private hangers-on, and keeping them in spiffy equipment.

    The argument Richard makes in his last paragraph is obvious. It’s been repeated ad nauseam on US car forums for years. Detroit isn’t serious about supplying world markets with large US style cars. Hasn’t been since before WW2. The US companies look for low-hanging fruit, and China is the current spot.I think the fit and finish argument is a bit spurious these days, but Euros cling to it. What Americans do not demand is super quality materials in the cabin.

    In the SI metric system (Systeme Internationale) which Europe doesn’t use much, but which we do follow in Canada, fuel consumption is measured in litres per 100 km. That is the international standard, and my Subaru displays it as such.

    Km per litre, bars and torrs for pressure, and many other bits of silliness like kg-m for torque are non-standard measurements used in Europe that should be binned forthwith. Clean up your own act before advocating anything but SI units! Europe is as stuck with silly local measurements as anywhere else. The UK with fuel sold in litres and distances and speed measured in miles is the most silly spot of all. That’s the engineer in me talking, having spent decades translating all the measurement guff.

    The US gallon is almost exactly 5/6 of an Imperial gallon. So 17 mpg US is 20.4 Imp.

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