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Ford Australia to turn around slow start

On the way up: After slipping to fifth place on the Australian sales charts, Ford is hopeful it can turn its fortunes around.

Better supply levels will be key to returning Ford Australia to top three

1 May 2012

FORD is confident it can recover from a slow start to the year and regain its place as one of the top three brands in Australia on the back of improved supply and a renewed focus on private sales.

The Blue Oval slipped to fifth place in the first quarter of 2012, with Fiesta, Falcon, Mondeo and Ranger all experiencing substantial declines of as much as 43.9 per cent.

Falcon sales have been in the doldrums, last month helping to drag down large-car sales in Australia to a record low four per cent share of the overall new-vehicle market, compared to 5.7 per cent in March, according to industry sources.

With the arrival of the four-cylinder EcoBoost Falcon, Ford anticipates a recovery in its large-car sales, even though sales projections for the new model are modest for 2012.

The segment should also benefit from the launch of the all-new Toyota Aurion, which was released last month, resumption of supply of the Honda Accord from Thailand, and better stocks of the Falcon EcoLPI and Holden’s LPG Commodore after recent parts supply issues.

Ford shifted 20,246 vehicles to the end of March, placing it behind runaway market leader Toyota on 47,375 sales, arch-rival Holden (28,945) and full-line importers Mazda (26,513) and Hyundai (21,731).

And sixth-placed Nissan (up 9.0 per cent) is only 349 sales behind Ford after selling 8312 vehicles in March as part of an end-of-Japanese-financial-year surge, eclipsing both Ford and Hyundai for the month.

However, Ford looks to have improved in April, with Ford Australia vice-president of marketing, sales and service Brad Brownell telling GoAuto today that it was anticipating a lift in share versus last month.

“Overall, we had some really strong performance on our key retail lines … and that’s very telling,” he said.

“If you look at over the last three years, we have consciously focused on the private segment, the small business and the profitable large fleets.” Although the new four-cylinder EcoBoost is intended to revive interest in Falcon, Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano told GoAuto at last week’s launch that the company expected to sell only 2000 units by end of this year as it seeks to convince buyers of the merits of a large four-pot sedan.

 center imageFrom top: Ford Australia vice-president of marketing, sales and service Brad Brownell, the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta.

Mr Brownell believes Falcon awareness will be boosted by more targeted marketing, including the launch of a viral campaign this week, and covering EcoBoost demonstrator vehicles with prominent “full body wraps”.

He said Ford would continue to concentrate its mainstream advertising strategies on other vehicle lines, such as the Focus.

Meanwhile, Ford is also still recovering from stock shortages of the new locally developed Ranger ute and entry-level Fiesta light car as a result of last year’s Thai floods.

“As you can imagine, the availability of production from the flooding has had a pretty big hangover for us, even through this month,” said Mr Brownell.

“We’re just starting to see production and arrivals on Ranger, but have had significant delays and lost production, so we’re off several thousand units of where we should be.

“But it’s starting to pick up. We had a good month on Ranger (last month), and we see that going every single month through the balance of the year. A lot of back orders (are) in place right now.” Fiesta (down 27.2 per cent) ceded ground in the first quarter to new rivals such as the Holden Barina (up 115.8 per cent) that was launched last September.

The mid-size Mondeo (down 32.2 per cent) has suffered at the hands of rivals such as the Honda Accord Euro (up 100.3 per cent), Volkswagen Passat (up 300.3 per cent) and Kia Optima (up 96.7 per cent).

Honda Australia concentrated its efforts on the Japanese-sourced Euro as it battled supply issues on most of its range, while Optima was boosted by the release in December of a cheaper new entry model.

Things are not all doom and gloom for Ford, with its locally built Territory family SUV continuing to sell strongly since the addition of a diesel engine option a year ago.

“We’ve got some nuggets of really positive performance,” said Mr Brownell.

Territory sales in the first quarter were up a substantial 51.7 per cent year-on-year (3539 sales compared to 2333), outselling the Toyota Kluger (3172) and Holden Captiva 7 (2719).

The Focus small car is also performing well, with strong drive-away deals and a large-scale advertising campaign helping sales rise 48.3 per cent.

The only other Ford product to have shown growth is the venerable Transit van, which is up 104 per cent from a low base on the back of a January facelift that added a new, more powerful and efficient turbo-diesel engine range.

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