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Escape clause averted by Ford

Escape route: The European Ford Kuga has been suggested as a replacement for the ageing Escape.

Ford reveals that it almost pulled the pin on its venerable compact SUV

20 Oct 2009

FORD Australia president Marin Burela has admitted that even he has been surprised by the sales resilience of the Escape, and that the company was ready to dump its ageing compact SUV until consistent demand lent it a stay of execution.

While sales for the first nine months of 2009 are down 41 per cent year-on-year, Ford’s eight-year-old competitor to the Toyota RAV4 has still registered a respectable 885 units, and is set to end the year eclipsing the 1000 mark.

Nevertheless, Ford is expected to announce soon that the European Kuga will replace the Escape in 2010, as it seeks a much bigger slice of the compact SUV pie, one of the largest segments in Australia.

In contrast to the Escape’s 885 buyers this year, the segment-leading Subaru Forester managed 10,779 sales, so there is massive room for Ford to show improvement.

“We actually thought that we should withdraw the Escape,” Mr Burela revealed to GoAuto Media at the launch of the Fiesta Econetic last week.

27 center image Left: Ford Escape.

“That was our thinking, until the customers came back and said ‘no way, we love the car’. We found a sweet spot for the vehicle – the right place, and at the right level of package.

“Interestingly it’s been very popular in Sydney – incredibly popular, which really surprised us, because you wouldn’t have expected that consumer demographic to really warm to that car.”

Asked whether this means that the Kuga has been put on hold indefinitely, Mr Burela indicated that Ford Australia is close to announcing what its compact SUV options will be.

“Are we looking at other product actions? The answer is yes, but it is too early to talk about them.

“But we are OK with what we have right now, but there is no question that – over time – we need to progress, and move forward, at this juncture.”

The Australian-market Escape – far and away the oldest passenger car in Ford’s line-up at almost nine years old – has soldiered on with only two relatively minor cosmetic updates since it was launched in Australia in early 2001.

Since then the Escape’s fraternal twin – the Mazda Tribute – has come and gone, and even that vehicle’s replacement – the CX-7 – has undergone a mild midlife makeover, while the Ford has soldiered on.

Ford switched to sourcing the Escape from Japan to Taiwan with the introduction of the ZC in the middle of 2006, while the ZD facelift from early 2008 has been a single keenly priced four-cylinder automatic model.

With 3606 units finding homes, 2002 was the Escape’s best year. Yet sales remained remarkably consistent up until last year. To the end of last month, some 23,800 have been sold in Australia.

In the meantime, the Escape’s US sibling underwent a complete reskin inside and out in 2007 for the North American market only, and has since sold quite well, with the Hybrid model in particular gaining a strong foothold.

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