It’s now only a matter of time before Ford’s largest European car offering loses its uneven struggle against customer apathy.
It’s all change at the blue oval, as our dear, departed Archie Vicar might have put it. The Ford Motor Company, it seems, has been rather busy of late, not simply rearranging the deckchairs by putting an end to car production in the United States, or announcing the breathlessly anticipated body-on-frame Bronco offroader, but shuffling the deck on the bridge to boot. Iceberg? What iceberg?
The dance of the two Jim’s has kept blue-oval watchers amused for months now; the word at ground level being that (former CEO) Jim (Hackett) hasn’t really lived up to expectations, but that (new CEO) Jim (Farley) is either (a) absolutely and without doubt the chap to steady the ship, or (b) the diametric opposite of the above. It really depends on who you read.
Ford recently announced that production of its Fusion sedan officially ceased on July 31st at its Hermosillo plant in Mexico. Introduced in its most recent iteration in 2013, the Fusion was the last Ford saloon car standing in America, following the 2019 axing of the Taurus. At Ford’s upmarket Lincoln division, a similar story has played out, with the Fusion-based MK-Z already pushing up daisies, while the (also CD4-based) Continental is either awaiting its fate or has already gone gently into that good night.
Of course, assuming that one’s definition of the word is sufficiently broad, Ford still makes cars – they just don’t resemble the ones we used to associate with the land of the free. More fool us. We really need to keep up – the roseate image of the suburban American driveway, with dad’s sedan and mom’s woody station wagon becoming as hopelessly, naively dated as episodes of TV’s The West Wing. Trucks and utilities have been the (literal) drivers of the US vehicle market for what must be decades now and Ford are doing their level best to catch up with a market which has moved on without them.
Fortunately for the blue oval, the money-printing machine that is the F-150 truck continues unabated, and in addition, Ford offers refreshed Escape and Explorer CUVs, with the prospect of not only the Mach- E electric crossover, but the newly announced Bronco offroader and Bronco Sport CUV. Also available is the compact EcoSport, although nobody really wants to talk about that one. Lincoln too are transitioning to an all SUV range. Now, one can argue the rights and wrongs of such a move (and the debate continues to rage), but it does seem a little poignant for those of us of a more romantic bent, even if romance per se has been notable by its absence for some considerable time now.
Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, Ford’s troubles have also been coming in battalions. Serially incapable of stemming the flow of red ink from their European operations, the blue oval has lacked the cashflow to develop the sort of vehicles European customers have increasingly been gravitating toward – meaning that rivals, (notably the VW group) are taking advantage.
2020 has been a wasteland across the global auto business, with sales decimated owing to enforced shutdowns, restrictions and suppressed demand relating to the C-19 outbreak. Some automakers have been harder hit than others, and certainly those who had been struggling beforehand are facing even sterner impediments to continued viability now.
Against this backdrop, the future for the D-segment Mondeo appears bleak. The big Ford hatchback limped onto the European market in 2014, and since then has sold modestly (if consistently), but in dwindling numbers with each passing year. Achieving European market sales of close to 80,000 in 2015, demand shrank to half that number by close of play last year. For the current year to June, Mondeo sales have dropped again by exactly 50% (against the same period last year), hardly a shock under the circumstances.
Numbers only tell part of the story of course, but what can be gleaned by even a cursory glance on the roads is that the Mondeo has become a commodity car, beloved only of rental companies and fleet operators, as indeed the US Fusion is said to have become as Ford allowed it to wither on the vine. It therefore seems likely that a similar pathway will play out here, before the scythe inevitably falls.
And fall it undoubtedly will. According to the Ford Authority website, development is progressing on an estate-biased crossover to replace the Fusion/ Mondeo, which is to be sold on both sides of the Atlantic. Development mules are already making the rounds, currently employing a cut and shut Focus Estate bodyshell, suggesting that development is primarily taking place in Merkenich, rather than Michigan. Also likely is an even further reliance upon US imports, as the blue oval attempts to retain a semblance of its European market share, not to mention, market relevance.
The Fiesta remains a strong seller, the Focus a respected Golf rival. Both cars are well-regarded and broadly up to date. But profitable model lines? Good question. The latest Kuga and Puma crossovers are probably where the Euro centre of gravity now lies, but market traction has so far been hard to come by, and the sands of time are thinning. Meanwhile the European market looks likely to be in even further flux over the coming years.
Will Ford depart the European market entirely? That, to coin a phrase, would be an ecumenical matter. Will they remain in vastly diminished form? Much will hinge upon what happens in Detroit, but the smart money might be on Ford’s growing alliance with VW forming the basis of its European ambitions post-2025. Perhaps it’s time to buy a Mondeo – for posterity purposes, you understand.