As Ford shuffles its CUV deck on both sides of the Atlantic, do we detect a certain softening in the Blue Oval’s visual palette?
It has been, as DTW’s curiously silent Ford-obsessive, Myles Gorfe might have said, a very busy week in Ford circles, with not one, but three new CUV model lines being revealed. Although, in the interests of accurate reporting that statement might want to be revised downwards, given that the new-generation K U G A and E S C A P E models are broadly one and the same.
But to be even more factually rigorous, one really ought to refine this statement further, given that Ford did not at the time of writing get around to fully revealing the forthcoming Puma – (or should that read P U M A?) badged model, electing instead to defer that pleasure until the summer.
Ford’s US-market Escape and rest-of the-world Kuga (lets stick with mixed case letters here, shall we?) was revealed earlier in the week. Based on the current Focus’ C2 platform and technical package, it is longer (overall and in wheelbase length), lower (by 20mm), wider (by 44mm) and tellingly, more aerodynamic than the outgoing model; the latter not only being a necessary prerequisite in the drive to improve efficiency and reduce emissions, but also being screamingly obvious in visual terms.
The stylistic shift from the rather dull but more upright and ‘utility’ looking outgoing model is dramatic, yet despite this, the Kuga/Escape, while cleaving to Ford’s latest design direction, presents a rather generic face to the world, one our resident design critic latterly coined as ‘modern-vernacular‘. Distinctive it certainly isn’t, although one has to concede that this was clearly Ford’s intention.
“The SUV is evolving…” Amko Leenarts, Ford Director of Design
What is perhaps more interesting about Escape/Kuga (polarity reversed for the sake of balance) is what Ford’s current Director of Design, Amko Leenarts had to say, speaking at the Kuga’s European launch event in Amsterdam, telling Automotive News, “We did not want to go for the warrior, get-out-of-my-way look. The customer didn’t want that. The SUV is evolving into something that’s much more honest, friendlier…”
One has to assume that the Blue Oval’s product strategists on both sides of the Atlantic have carried out their due diligence and that the target demographic for Kuga/Escape is not interested in something which resembles an attack vehicle, merely a taller riding, more substantial feeling version of the C-segment hatchback the Escape/Kuga undoubtedly resembles.
Certainly, the Kuga’s major European rivals which provide a broadly similar customer offer have to date given Ford a bit of a kicking. According to JATO Dynamics figures quoted this week by ANE, the outgoing Kuga was decisively outsold by Nissan’s Qashqai, VW’s Tiguan and Peugeot’s 3008, suggesting perhaps that its rather unsophisticated appearance (and perhaps its age) was hampering its prospects.
But while this may well be the case in Europe, it’s unclear whether the same can be said for North American customers, who have it could be argued, found the more utilitarian appearance of the outgoing car more to their tastes. A hugely unscientific reading of the reaction from the below-the-line, keyboard-warrior contingent amid US-centric automotive outlets in the wake of the Escape’s announcement suggests an element of dismay, with many lamenting the change in design ethos.
However, Ford is preparing a range of vehicles more attuned to these sensibilities in the forthcoming Bronco-badged offerings, which are believed to be closer to the pure-offroad template so favoured by the more ‘enthusiastic’ end of the SUV spectrum. Models, given the current ‘One Ford’ policy which are also likely to be offered in some form at least on European shores.
But despite America’s love of robust-looking SUVs, what is perhaps a little surprising is that according to Ford’s exterior design chief, George Sedarikis, the Escape/Kuga design theme was primarily driven by the design studio in Dearborn rather than at Köln-Merkenich, where one might have thought it would have originated.
“SUVs are critical to us”. Ford of Europe President, Stuart Rowley
It’s clear that Ford are making a distinction between their existing SUV customers and those they wish to attract, who might previously have purchased a conventional hatch or saloon model. And for these buyers it seems, warrior-like aggression is not on the spec-list. Neither it appears is the urge to stand out visually, if the resolved, if slightly anonymous appearance of Kuga/Escape is to be explained.
Further explanation perhaps can be found here. Ford’s commercial back is against the wall – especially so in Europe and without a significant shift in fortunes, will continue to lose relevance in the European mainland. And while some might suggest that this makes it exactly the right time to take a product-related leap, it would be a brave man who would choose to do so in the current climate.
But further speculation aside, the salient talking point of the Kuga/Escape (and potentially the Puma), is Ford’s stated direction of travel away from overtly pugnacious design – one which lends at the very least a faint glimmer of solace for those amongst us for whom this aggression will not stand.