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Driven: Ford to double Escape marketing spend

Second time lucky: Ford is hoping for a sales increase with its Escape SUV that replaces the slow-selling Kuga.

Escape to find fresh path where Kuga failed: Ford Australia

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Ford logo28 Feb 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

FORD Australia has confirmed it will double its marketing spend for its Escape mid-size SUV compared with the under-performing Kuga it replaces, while insisting it will become a more aggressive player in the fast-growing segment.

Despite being only a facelifted – and renamed – version of the model it replaces, Ford has tagged the Escape as its most significant launch of the year thanks primarily to an expanded line-up that it claims will reach 92 per cent of medium SUV customers compared with 76 per cent previously.

The Escape mostly mirrors the three-tier line-up of its predecessor, however above the $28,490 (plus on-road costs) manual and $29,990 automatic Ambiente front-wheel-drive versions sits a new $32,990 Trend front-wheel-drive auto.

It wears an identical sticker price to the carry-over Kuga Ambiente all-wheel-drive auto, but Ford argues the increased specification of the Trend model grade will appeal to a greater number of buyers than fewer standard items with four-wheel traction.

The $35,990 Trend and $44,990 Titanium all-wheel drive both also remain, with diesel continuing as a $2500 option on each.

“From our perspective, it’s an aggressive approach in terms of the pricing, the specification change and the exterior differentiation,” Ford Australia marketing manager Danni Winter told GoAuto at the national media launch of the Escape in Melbourne last week.

“(There is) a significant marketing spend behind it. We have never invested as heavily in Kuga as we’re planning to for Escape, which we see as part of our broad future, focusing on SUVs and commercial vehicles as a corporate strategy.

“I’ll be investing double what I did in the old model, but for us we have a job to do in awareness.”

Ms Winter confessed that there were consumer awareness failings with the Kuga in Australia, with some medium SUV buyers having not even realised that Ford offered an entrant in the segment.

“We’re looking to grow our share within the segment, but we’re not targeting to get to (number) one, two or three in the short term, it’s going to take time as we build awareness of our nameplate in the market,” Ms Winter continued.

“There’s 28 competitors in the segment, and we’ve not been a significant entrant in that segment for well over 10 years. The market is not necessarily aware we have an entrant there (so) we need to get on the shopping list first, and then the consumer can decide whether they like our product or a competitor product.

“But primarily we need to make consumers aware that we offer a (medium) SUV.

What we are planning for is continued and steady growth of the Escape nameplate as we move forward from this year into outward years.”

Ms Winter declined to nominate why awareness of the Kuga was lacking, but she added that “a new name will help (in) freshening our appearance to the market”.

Ford Australia has said that its name-switch from Kuga, as used in Europe, to Escape used in the US, was primarily designed to align its global SUV naming convention with the letter ‘E’ – adding to EcoSport, Edge (due 2018) and Everest.

However, Ms Winter conceded that the popularity of the Kuga in Europe meant it would not be smart for that market to make the name switch.

Locally, the medium SUV segment soared by 11.6 per cent in 2016 to record 142,622 annual units. However, the Kuga’s 4395 sales were just 1.2 per cent higher than 2015 and amounted to a 3.1 per cent segment share – well behind the Mazda CX-5 (24,564 sales and 17.2 per cent share) and Toyota RAV4 (19,526 sales and 13.7 per cent share) class leaders.

Despite the significant sales catch-up job, Ms Winters maintained it would not heavily discount the new Escape or increase its fleet sales, insisting that growth for its medium SUV offering would come from retail sales.

“We’re expecting sales to grow over time (so) we’re not going to invest heavily in discounting the car, we’re looking for a good growth trajectory in terms of our volume and share,” she said.

“We’re not going to get into discount games with fleet customers, our product stands on its own and we’ll continue to price it appropriately as the market dictates.”

Ford Australia said that in addition to the name change and revised line-up, the Escape benefits most from renewed styling that adopts a new front-end fascia with sharper headlight and grille treatments, and narrower tail-lights.

It also has spruiked the across-the-range inclusion of its 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Sync3 software including digital radio, an Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring feature and integrated satellite navigation as a major selling feature in addition to other safety technology.

However, just one month after Ford was heavily criticised by industry safety body ANCAP for failing to offer active cruise control, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor or lane-keep assistance on its Mustang coupe, it has again not included these features as standard on any Escape.

The above list continues to only be available on Trend and Titanium as part of a Technology Pack previously offered for $1600 but now a $1300 extra. Compared with the Kuga’s Technology Pack, the AEB now works to 50km/h (previously 30km/h) while rear cross-traffic alert has also been added.

The Escape also retains the Kuga’s five-star ANCAP safety rating.

There are no major chassis changes over the existing MacPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear suspension setup, and only a single efficiency-enhancing engine change.

The Ambiente manual continues to utilise a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine with the same 110kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm, weighing 1559kg and claiming carry-over combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres.

The six-speed automatic version produces 134kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm, weighing 1550kg and claiming 7.2L/100km. All-wheel-drive kerb weight rises to 1668kg, with consumption of 7.5L/100km.

A leather-wrapped steering wheel, front and rear foglights, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and 8.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology are standard. The 17-inch steel wheels with hubcaps signify this as the base SUV.

The 1607kg Trend front-wheel drive auto is also rated at 7.5L/100km with the same 1.5-litre turbo, and it adds 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and leather-trimmed gearshifter. An automatic hands-free tailgate is bundled with keyless auto-entry with push-button start as a $1200 option.

The 1719kg Trend all-wheel drive upgrades to a significantly revised (with new block, pistons and twin-scroll turbocharger) 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine, yet it makes the same 178kW at 5500rpm and 345Nm from 2000rpm to 4500rpm as before. Its 8.6L/100km consumption is down 0.2L.

The 1746kg Trend all-wheel drive includes a carry-over 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder with 132kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm between 2000rpm and 2500rpm and a 5.5L/100km claim.

The same petrol and diesel duo are available for $44,990 and $47,490 in flagship Titanium specification respectively.

Additional equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, front parking sensors with automatic reverse-park assistance, swiveling bi-Xenon headlights, power-fold door mirrors, LED tail-lights, hands-free electric tailgate, panoramic glass roof, keyless auto-entry, ambient interior lighting, nine-speaker Sony audio system, and leather trim with heated front seats and a power adjustable driver’s seat.

As with the Kuga, all Escapes include a 406-litre boot that can be expanded to 1603L with the rear-seat folded.

2017 Ford Escape pricing*
Ambiente 1.5L FWD$28,490
Ambiente 1.5L FWD (a)$29,990
Ambiente 1.5L AWD (a)$32,990
Trend 1.5L FWD (a)$32,990
Trend 2.0L EcoBoost AWD (a)$35,990
Trend 2.0L Diesel AWD (a)$38,490
Titanium 2.0L EcoBoost AWD (a)$44,990
Titanium 2.0L Diesel AWD (a)$47,490
*Excludes on-road costs

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