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Falcon Ute fans step up to Ford Ranger

Falcon flown: Ford’s final Falcon Ute quietly rolled off the line last week but the company says consumer culture has been shifting to more off-road pick-up-style utes.

Ford Ranger’s best month fuelled by Falcon Ute owner’s one-tonne transition

2 Aug 2016

BY THE end of 2017, Australians will no longer be able to buy a new example of one of the most quintessential Australian vehicles when the final run of Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore utes dries up, but the Blue Oval says times have changed and its booming Ranger will carry the loyal fans and their stuff beyond the beloved sedan-based Ute.

From the halcyon days of the early 2000s when sales of the Falcon Ute occasionally topped 2000 per month, the tradie favourite has dropped to a consistent but seriously diminished number of just a few hundred.

But at the announcement of the company’s future SUV strategy, Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said “We’ve got another new ute – it’s called the Ranger” and added that a significant number of its Falcon Ute customers had already made the transition ahead of the end of Australian production of the workhorse late last week.

“I think you’ll find that as the likes of Falcon Ute moves on that will be one of the options that consumers will validly look to,” he said. “It’s a reasonably decent percentage of people migrating from Falcon Ute already into Ranger.

“We still see a very strong group of people migrating from that product into the pick-up category. That’s one of the stronger categories as it stands. We talk about growth, that’s similar to small SUVs and has grown. I think year to date it has just tipped over 15 per cent of all vehicles sitting in pick-ups.”

27 center imageLeft: Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman.In June this year, Ford found homes for 371 Falcon Utes – a slight boost from the low-200s for the first part of the year, but it is a different story in the Ranger column which had its best month on record, shifting 4078 examples.

That substantial figure has been enhanced by Ford Falcon Ute owners making the switch to the Ranger’s high-riding and all-paw capability says Ford, and it put the Blue Oval-badged model just 535 units behind the dominant Toyota HiLux (4613) for the month.

Such is the popularity of the Ford Ranger that its circa-$60,000 Wildtrak flagship has a six-month waiting list but despite the exclusivity of the most heavily equipped version, Ford is continuing a billboard campaign for the Wildtrak.

Ford Australia marketing director Lew Echlin explained that the company would continue to promote vehicles even if they did not necessarily need to bolster sales in that particular segment, comparing the Wildtrak to the Mustang that has an even longer lead time.

“Wildtrak is clearly driving the brand image,” he said. “We have Mustang on billboards as well. What’s really important for us is – and every brand suffers from this – there is a significant and profound lack of awareness for new product.”

Mr Whickman repeated Mr Echlin’s sentiments and said that while the Ranger was the company’s best seller by a significant margin, Ford was not about to neglect the rest of the range.

“We will keep advertising and promoting Ranger because we think that the sort of segment share that we are getting at the moment is something that the product deserves as long as we can earn the right to have more customers aware of the product and give us a go,” he said.

“Having said that, we will look to balance our showroom and you’ll see more of a moderation over time.”

For the Mustang sportscar, Ford had originally forecast 1000 sales in the first year, but the original 4000-unit allocation had sold out before the first right-hand drive car had rolled off the US production line and it was a similar story with the Ranger Wildtrak, according to Mr Whickman.

“I don’t think Ford misread the market, I think we have been pleasantly surprised at the demand. You’re talking about a product that probably three or four years ago had a ten to 12 per cent segment share and now we are at 19 and 20 per cent.

“We have plant capacities that we have to work our way through and there are a lot of other countries sourcing out of those plants and as we demonstrate and experience demand we work back. We work hard to make sure we get plenty of opportunity to meet our demand but it’s not as simple as flicking a switch.”

The one-tonne ute segment is becoming increasingly competitive with offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Renault joining other relative newcomers such as Volkswagen’s Amarok, but Mr Whickman explained that the company had adopted an aggressive strategy for the Ranger.

“Our ability to penetrate the segment with the segment already growing and a record industry on top, that can sometimes be a challenge as well.

“I think we’ve got a point of view around, and strategy of, play-where-we-can-win and that’s something we have been working on.

“We’ve been very pleased with the growth of the Ranger and are proud of the fact that it was designed and engineered here.”

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