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Thai sourcing likely for Escape replacement

Escape plan: Ford's next-generation Escape will be closely related to the European-built Kuga compact SUV.

Ford’s next compact SUV is set to be built alongside its Focus progenitor

Ford logo18 Oct 2010

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

THE END is finally in sight for Ford’s decade-old Escape SUV in Australia as its Focus-based replacement is readied for production in Thailand.

However, the model being prepared for Thai production alongside the third-generation Focus that spawns it will not be available as the Escape successor for Australia until 2012 at the earliest.

The current Escape is based on the old GF Mazda 626 platform and built in Taiwan, but the next-generation model will be closely related to the Kuga compact SUV that was first revealed at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show and currently built only in Germany.

27 center imageFrom top: Ford Escape, Ford C-Max, Rayong plant in Thailand, Ford of Europe executive design director Martin Smith.

Ford’s chief designer Martin Smith has indicated that the Kuga and the Escape will share a common successor in the not too-distant future.

Nevertheless, there may still be a chance that the current Kuga might be imported to Australia before the new Thailand model arrives, to give the Blue Oval a credible presence in the booming compact SUV class, where the Escape accounts for only 2.8 per cent of sales this year.

Overall, compact SUV sales are up a whopping 37 per cent in 2010 and represent 10.6 per cent of the total new vehicle market, but Escape volume – despite almost doubling over last year’s levels to 2288 units on the back of discount pricing ($27,990 driveaway in some areas) – is only one-fifth that of the leading Subaru Forester.

Although reluctant to take such a stopgap measure, Ford could import the Kuga with the next-generation Focus, which will also come from Germany for a year after launch in the third quarter of 2011, until production gears up at the Rayong plant in Thailand.

Production of the ageing current Focus in South Africa ceases soon and the German-built replacement is likely to appear at the Australian International Motor Show (AIMS) in Melbourne next July.

Ford Motor Company group vice president and president for Asia Pacific and Africa, Joe Hinrichs, said that addressing Ford’s less-than-stellar sales effort in both the Australian small car and compact SUV markets is a matter of urgency.

“We will definitely do something about replacing the Escape,” said Mr Hinrichs.

“I think it is fair to say that the product we have and the products that we have coming are better than our market share representation in Australia, and that’s our collective challenge.

“We have made market share improvements in Fiesta and Falcon, and we have grown our Ranger volume. Those are examples where we have indentified opportunities and have realised some success here in Australia.

“The C-segment is one of the other parts of the market that are very important to us, and we haven’t done as well and have to do better in. The Focus could do better and will do better… especially with the next-generation vehicle.”

Mr Hinrichs said the Ford Motor Company globally has changed dramatically due to the expansion of the Asia Pacific and Africa region and its role within the company, and that Ford Australia is set to benefit enormously from it in terms of product as well as profitability.

Furthermore, with speculation running hot that the Broadmeadows team is leading the development of a Figo light car-based model for China, there seems to be an ongoing demand for the Ford Australia engineering department’s experience and know-how – in what has fast become the Blue Oval’s regional ‘brains trust’.

As GoAuto reported earlier this month, the Figo – a modernisation of the WP-WQ Fiesta sold in Australia from 2004 to 2009 – has hit a home-run since its first quarter 2010 launch in India, exceeding sales expectations and highlighting Ford Australia’s expertise.

“The realisation of the growth in the Asia Pacific region has changed Ford even in the last 12 months (due to) the growth potential it has, so now we’re getting more new product because all of the markets are contributing to the development costs of new models,” said Mr Hinrichs.

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