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Future models - Ford - Kuga

Ford in no hurry for Kuga

Endangered species: Strong sales of the aged Escape have put the brakes on Europe's relatively new Kuga, petrol versions of which are now available overseas with an automatic transmission.

Auto puts Kuga compact SUV more firmly on Ford’s radar, but there’s an Escape clause

Ford logo14 Dec 2009

By PHILIP LORD

FORD has begun to take more seriously the idea of importing the compact Kuga SUV from Europe, but it will not arrive here in 2010.

Speaking at last week’s Fiesta Econetic launch, Ford Australia president Marin Burela said the Kuga compact SUV had become more of an option locally, as it recently became available with automatic transmission.

The Blue Oval only has the dated Ford Escape – which has been on local shelves in one form or another for nine years – in the booming compact SUV segment, but Mr Burela ruled out any chance of the Kuga going on sale here next year.

“At first it was only available as a manual, but it is now available as automatic as well as a manual – except the diesel,” he said.

“So our objective will be to study it … to look at the vehicle, although we don’t need to make a decision through 2010.

“The important thing for us is if we do decide to go down that Kuga path (there) is a consistency to the product. We can’t go into to as we did with Ka – stay for a while and then go. All that does is create confusion in the network and the marketplace.”

27 center imageDespite the Australian market’s familiarity with the Escape nameplate here, Mr Burela quashed the notion of rebadging the European Kuga product as an Escape, if and when it was released here.

“I would prefer to go to a global naming strategy,” he said.

The Kuga would meet the Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 head-on, said Mr Burela.

“We know we’d need to get it in at a low price point, at the compact SUV entry point.”

Despite Ford being tempted to kill it off, Mr Burela said the Escape wouldn’t die because the market still wanted it.

“We thought we’d actually get out of Escape, but the reaction we were seeing from the market was overwhelming – they wanted it to stay. We sell 400 a month. It’s perfect … it hits the sweet spot.”

As for Ford’s global light car, the Ka, Mr Burela said: “No full decision has been made. We could move if we wanted, we could go down that path quickly. The trouble we face is capacity they’re selling so many in Europe.”

There were other problems, said Mr Burela, with a smooth path for Ka’s arrival here.

“The biggest challenge we face is that it’s a manual – they don’t have an auto. It’s a 1.2-litre or 1.3-litre. It’s also an expensive car.”

While the Ka would compete with sub-light cars such as Suzuki’s Alto and potential imports from Toyota (iQ) and Holden (Spark), Mr Burela said he believes the Fiesta is all Ford needs for now.

“I think we’re covering the small car landscape very well with the Fiesta, so we’ll allow that time to settle down and see what happens.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr Burela does not see a future for a Ford Australia-backed return of the F250 ute.

“It’s hard to say, there’s always a niche there, but we’d prefer to leave that niche to other people.”

Meanwhile, Mr Burela reiterated the stay of execution for the BFIII Falcon Wagon – at least for two more months.

“Let’s just wait until we come to all the conclusions that we need to come to, which will be in the next couple months. February will be about the time,” he said.

Meantime, direct liquid injection (LPI) continues to be on track for the Falcon “in the latter half of 2010”, said Mr Burela.

Similarly, the much anticipated Territory diesel is still on track for a 2011 arrival but, as previously reported, a 2.7-litre turbo-diesel V6 will be employed rather than the newer 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 as used by 10MY Jaguar and Land Rover models.

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