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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.