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Ford Australia not Ranger car company: exec

Hitting targets: Ford Australia is satisfied with the take-up of the Focus small car since the refreshed version arrived with a $23,390 (plus costs) starting price last year.

New Ford plan focuses on private buyer profit over outright volume

29 Aug 2016

FORD Australia has not become the Ranger car company despite almost half the brand’s sales going to the truck range, according to a company executive who said the car-maker’s declining volume in other segments was a result of finding a more profitable “sweet spot” in models such as the Focus.

Speaking with GoAuto at the launch of the Sync3 infotainment system in Sydney, Ford Australia marketing director Lew Echlin stressed that every car company had its “hits” and he argued that outright volume was no longer the barometer on which the success of Ford’s range was judged internally.

“I don’t see a danger (of becoming known as the Ranger car company) in our current sales state,” he said.

“I look at it as brands have the sum total of what I call ‘runaway hits’. Each brand has their iconic vehicles, and Ranger and Mustang have no doubt been iconic vehicles for us … and as such are driving a lot of our retail growth.

“But our marketing plan is based on a (model) diversification strategy.”

According to industry body VFACTS, to July 2016 the Mustang was the top selling sportscar in the country with 3118 sales year to date. The Ranger fell to second behind the Toyota HiLux in the ute segment, but its volume of 21,073 represented almost half the 42,277 Fords sold around the country this year.

While the Mondeo medium sedan and Everest large SUV models have struggled to match the sales of the Falcon and Territory that cease production on October 7 (see separate story), smaller passenger car and SUV models were also down.

Over the same period the Fiesta notched up 1707 sales, rated ninth in the light-car segment and down 41.8 per cent, while the recently refreshed Focus tallied 3644 units for eighth spot in the small-car class, down 20.7 per cent.

The EcoSport small SUV managed 1139 sales for 10th position but with volume falling 16.5 per cent, while the updated Kuga medium SUV’s 2757 tally was up 6.7 per cent yet still rated a lowly ninth in its class.

However, Mr Echlin used the repositioned Focus range that now starts at $23,390 plus on-road costs, as an example of an increased focus on greater profitability for the updated range despite reduced volumes, pointing to Ford’s range-wide 30 per cent increase in private sales as a greater factor.

 center imageLeft: Ford Australia marketing director Lew Echlin.

“Focus is meeting our sales commitments for it,” he continued.

“The new Focus has been very, very good for us in terms of customer quality, their satisfaction with the sales and service as well as the vehicle itself, which has been absolutely fantastic.

“It’s no secret that we’re in the business to make money, and we’ve tweaked the business model a bit for Focus and as a result it’s healthier for us.”

Mr Echlin said ensuring every Focus came standard with satellite navigation, digital radio and 8.0-inch touchscreen was part of, “a big opportunity to step up the game of what the Focus brand can be (and by) elevating the Focus’ game to what I’d consider the middle of the segment and above, we’ve been able to improve our overall brand.”

Asked whether not having a circa-$20,000 Focus to compete with the likes of the Hyundai i30, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla top sellers would ultimately limit volumes, Mr Echlin replied: “I think we can always aspire to more, and we have seen that the market moves upscale and not downscale.”“What I think is more exciting is what’s happened overall with our retail sales, or what we’d say is our private buyers and small businesses, and our retail sales are up substantially this year, some 30 per cent,” he continued.

“That’s been a result of us hitting a ‘sweet spot’ with all of our vehicles and I find that particularly gratifying for the entire marketing and sales team at Ford, because … playing where we can win has really made a difference for us.”

That included, he confessed, relying on fewer fleet customers.

“Our business has evolved quite a bit to ensure we look at businesses on a fleet-by-fleet basis to make sure that we’re not selling vehicles unprofitably,” he said.

“It’s no secret that we’re not selling as many through rental anymore and that’s part of our product mix changing but also a conscious decision to make sure that our ultimate goal is the retail customer.”

Mr Echlin said the fruits of the altered marketing effort had already been seen since he arrived 18 months ago from his native Detroit, noting a major change was the increased “collaboration” between staff during what he termed a transitional period for the company.

“Instead of marketing being much of a ‘behind closed doors’ we’ve opened up the doors,” he explained.

“We have a marketing advisory board that signs off every commercial, every media thing we do, and we even have employee focus groups internally at Ford – we figure to get the kind of commitment we needed to be able to do our brand transformation we needed to have everybody at the company involved.

“I was also painfully aware of the fact that here is an American, an other, so I wanted to make sure that whatever I did was an instrument of what the Australian market needed and wanted.

“Frankly everybody’s had outstanding opinions, outstanding input, and as a result I think we’ve upped our game substantially.”

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