A mid-decade blow-in from the US prompts some blue oval-based soul-searching.
The car which was once so dominant that it came to embody an entire socio-demographic UK class is fading from sight. The decline of the Ford Mondeo signifies a number of things, but perhaps primarily that this, coupled with the recent withdrawal of the Edge SUV from UK market (owing to a lack of buyer interest) illustrates most starkly the upper limits of brand-Ford in 2019.
For clarity, I enclose the following sales figures. Last year the Mondeo racked up sales of 49,596 cars across the entire European region, while this year to July, 25,125 found new homes, suggesting that the model line will struggle to break the 40,000 mark by year’s end. As we know, it arrived late and wasn’t greeted as a prodigal son when it did, but given Ford’s well publicised European challenges, this doesn’t augur well for their ambition to regain a profitable European business.
Among the efforts made to arrest their sales decline and to shift transaction prices upwards, Ford’s European arm have been engaged in what might charitably be described as a ‘trim enhancement programme’ under the Vignale nameplate. But it doesn’t appear to have met with much success here in Blighty – Mondeos of any stripe proving a rare sight, placing the Vignale version firmly in hen’s teeth territory.
But did it have to come to this? The reason for this preamble relates to a sighting earlier this week, which for your correspondent at least, represented a first. In North West London suburban traffic, a circa-2014-2016 Lincoln MKZ swept past and dear reader, I was rather taken.
For those of you unfamiliar with this model line, the MKZ can trace its lineage to the 2005 Zephyr model. This was schemed as a post-PAG replacement for the unsuccessful Lincoln LS, which as we all know shared a good deal of its underwear with Jaguar’s unloved S-Type. The Zephyr was based on the contemporary front-wheel drive Ford Fusion platform, which lent it a stronger business case and Dearborn much needed economies of scale denied them with the X200/ DEW98 debacle.
The model to which I allude however was first introduced in 2013, (by now having gained the rather silly MKZ moniker), based on the current Fusion/ Mondeo platform and bodyshell, albeit, with its own quite distinctive sheet metal. While the exterior design, allegedly attributed to Max Wolff, (sayeth the internet) retained the donor Fusion’s sheer bodysides, there was a good deal more visual interest both fore and aft, not to mention considerably more upmarket tinsel.
Featuring styling cues which referenced the Lincoln models of the 1940s – notably the grille design – and a sweeping, more elegant tail treatment, the MKZ, while not quite entirely masking its Fusion bones, nevertheless left a more positive impression than its lowlier sibling. Cabin architecture was broadly the same, albeit with plusher materials, more standard equipment and a wider array of trim and specification enhancements.
Powertrains too were broadly shared; the inevitable 240 bhp EcoBoost turbo four, a 3.7 litre, 300 bhp V6 and an EcoBoost-derived hybrid model with 188 bhp, but considerably enhanced economy figures. As one might expect, the MKZ reportedly majored on comfort and ease of driving, with accurate control responses and a relaxed, somewhat languid demeanour, akin to that of its Buick Lacrosse and Lexus ES rivals.
What I saw (fleetingly) was a car of elegance and distinction, quite unlike its lumpen light-averse Mondeo cousin and it led me to wonder, if not for the first time, whether Ford’s European image-related issues could perhaps have at least partially been salved had Lincoln been introduced to the old World as its upmarket line?
Here in the UK, people once aspired to Ford ownership, owing to there being a broad range of attractive designs and a clear, delineated hierarchical ladder upon which the buyer could ascend. Expectations of course were lower then and the premium marques had an exclusivity to defend. But neither the times, nor the mores are what they once were.
Ford, for more than a quarter-century, has (in this writer’s opinion), scandalously neglected the Lincoln division; latterly collateral damage from the messy divorce which took place when they divested themselves of the PAG marques. It’s possible that had the blue oval intelligently invested in Lincoln over the intervening decade, the division could now be a major profit centre, given the manner in which upmarket nameplates have come to predominate.
But having placed most of their eggs in the truck market’s load-bay, it finally appears that the realisation has dawned at Dearborn’s Glass House, which has seen real, if sorely belated investment in new Lincoln product lines. The latest SUV models in particular, appear to be well styled, credible luxury vehicles, even if the saloon equivalents remain something of a work in progress.
Even the ill-considered and confusing model naming system is in the process of being ditched, with names from the marque’s back catalogue being reinstated. All welcome developments, but by heavens, it’s arrived late in the day. Too late some might suggest. Certainly so for Ford to consider launching Lincoln on this side of the Atlantic now, but while a car like the MKZ might have proven to have been merely something of a minority interest, it was at least, interesting.
But to return to the problem at hand. As Mondeo loses what small appeal it still holds, how is the blue oval to prevent itself becoming, like Fiat, simply a purveyor of small to medium cars and crossovers in the European market, with all that entails for transaction prices and therefore, profit? It’s going to require creative solutions, and good ones at that. But what we’re currently seeing from Mr. Jim Farley and his associates shows little sign of that.