Often described in ‘social death’ terms by the more hyperbolic members of the media, the MPV itself is now fading out before our eyes.
An oft-spoken cry from the more dogmatic end of the automotive spectrum came closer to coming true yesterday, following Ford’s announcement that production of B-Max, C-Max and Grand C-Max MPVs will cease at its Saarlouis plant in Germany at the end of June.
Of course, nobody is likely to (a) be poleaxed to the spot in shock, or (b) possessed by a frenzy of bathetic fervour at the news, given that sales of what are termed Minivans by our US friends have been in freefall for some time now, as carbuyers increasingly succumb to the image, appearance and down-the-road graphics of crossover CUVs.
According to Carsalesbase.com, sales of mid-sized MPV’s at sector level fell by 20% in 2018, placing them back at levels last seen in 1999. As a consequence of changing customer behaviour, sales of the C-Max and Grand C-Max echoed this trend, falling 21% to 53,080 last year, according to figures supplied by JATO Dynamics; numbers, it seems Ford is no longer prepared to countenance.
Uncle Henry of course is battling not only to turn his loss making European operations around financially, but to maintain a existential European business case. Hence the necessity to take hard-nosed decisions on failing model lines, but it’s nevertheless a blow to carmaking on the European mainland and to the Saarlouis plant in particular – part of a planned jobs cull of 5000 staff across the European business.
Another unreported factor contributing to the Ford models’ demise is of course the encroach of BMW and Mercedes-Benz into the mainstream markets with the 2-Series Active/Gran Tourer and B-Class models, and although these too have suffered falling sales throughout 2018, they must still be regarded as disruptors.
Cannibalisation from within also cannot be discounted. The new Focus, the popularity of which, especially in Estate and high-riding Active form the carmaker makes lavish claims for, may have further hastened the C-Max’s demise.
It’s hardly coincidental either that next week, the next-generation Focus-based Kuga crossover is to be officially revealed prior to going on sale later in the year. Autocar suggests that alongside the Valencia-built Kuga, Ford will also reveal a Fiesta-based crossover model, possibly a replacement to the endlessly facelifted and re-engineered Ecosport model, which has done so much to dent Henry’s credibility with customers on both sides of the Atlantic.
All of which fits in with Ford’s US carmaking plans, where new generation Bronco and so-called Baby-Bronco SUVs are currently being prepared, prior to official announcement. Anything you like, as long as its an SUV, being Henry’s newfound offer to the customer.
With the B/C-Max gone, further nails have been hammered into the compact European MPV’s coffinlid. Last year’s decisive winner in this losing game was Renault’s Scenic. Will France remain the final bastion of the format, alongside the ‘prestige’ Germans, or is the end finally nigh? JATO alone will probably have the answer.