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Ford ‘getting house in order’

Supply and demand: Ford Australia is experiencing stock shortages of its Mondeo mid-sizer from the busy factory in Valencia, Spain.

Improved sales, service, and product emphasis is turning Ford’s fortunes around

5 Sep 2015

FORD Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman says that the customer and dealer satisfaction improvements being applied to help rebuild the Blue Oval brand Down Under are already yielding results.

Speaking at the facelifted Focus launch in Adelaide earlier this month, the 18-year Ford veteran said that the groundwork, based on similar strategies successfully deployed in the United Kingdom and Canadian markets (where Ford is number one) is being laid out in Australian dealerships to lure buyers back to the brand.

Mr Whickman added that the changes should be reflected in stronger second-half sales results, despite record-low numbers for the first eight months of this year.

“We’re starting to get really good feedback on that experience,” he told GoAuto. “That’s the biggest change for us, because the product we’ve got is really strong.

“(But) you can’t rely just on the product. You have to have somewhere someone’s happy to come into. The dealers have done a great job they know that there’s a challenge. They know that consumers’ tastes and requirements are changing. So it’s quite an interesting time.” In December last year, Ford announced a roll-out of an overhauled dealer experience with improved contact, browsing, buying, booking, and servicing methodology, involving better staff training, and the adoption of new technologies based on multimedia interfaces. This was followed in February with a free loan-car scheme.

“Some of the stuff that we’re doing at the moment is really important in terms of consumer experience and the like,” Mr Whickman said. “That’s been one of the bigger learnings that I’ve taken personally you have to make sure that your house is a place that people want to visit. We want to be in the top area in consumer experience.

“And now we’re starting to win the odd award here and there for aftermarket sales experience. But while competitively we’re improving, we’ve got more room to move. We want to earn the right for customers to stay with us.

Mr Whickman highlighted the three areas in which the company is working hard on improving.

“There’s the process element – best practise in terms of how people would like to engage as they walk into a dealership there’s a culture element – the consumer experience movement, where, in conjunction with the dealer body, we actually employ a coach and it holds a mirror up to the dealership in terms of management and how they operate, and break down barriers and there’s a technology element – thinking outside the automotive space with technology… be it someone arriving in the service bay, greeted with a service advisor, who books them in on an iPad, seamlessly.

“The beauty of it (for Australian Ford dealers) is that … each one of those items has been piloted in different markets, and what we’re doing here is actually bringing in all three at once. There is a cultural change going on (in terms of) acceptance and mindset. You’ve got a process change at the same time.”

With Ford’s year-to-date sales figures to the end of August revealing a 17.1 per cent slide over the same period last year, from 55,360 to 45,911 units (representing a 1.5 per cent market share cut, to just six per cent overall – a modern historical low), Mr Whickman acknowledges that the results do not yet reflect all the work his team is undertaking.

However, the turnaround will come, he reiterated, aided by freer supply of constrained product such as the new Mondeo mid-sizer, refreshed Ranger pick-up and Focus small car, as well as the Everest SUV and Mustang sportscar out in the last quarter of this year.

“We’re in the middle of launching five to six new products of which we’ve got four right in the next three or four months,” he said.

“We’ve got orders and contracts on Mondeo that we’ve been unable to fulfil … Valencia has been supplying a lot of markets … we’ve got orders, we know they’re sitting there. In the second half, we expect to do better than the first half.”

Finally, backing this up is a change in the way Ford vehicles are going to be marketed in Australia.

“I already talked about the product. The environment’s very important, whether it’s tech, culture or process, but at the same time people have to be energised about the product too,” Mr Whickman said.

“And the product alone won’t do it either, because people have to know about the product. So how we communicate about the product, on paid and unpaid forms, that’s just as critical as well.

So you’ll see us metamorphosing ourselves on a lot of the way we’re going to market over the next six to nine months.

“It will be a mixture of why we call it The Fresh Face of Ford. ‘Well that’s an experience’ – and then there will be the way we communicate it. And we hope that we will earn the right for some consumers to consider us.”

Mr Whickman says while he knows the task is massively difficult, he is confident that his team’s experience will prevail moving forward.

“I put my hand up to come down here,” he said. “I was sitting in Canada in our number one position, as part of a group that got us to number one it was an interesting time. It was positive in Britain, where we celebrated 25 years of leadership when I was there.

“(But) I just wanted a different challenge. So where better to come. Australia I knew had some challenges, and we always go through difficult periods, and I wanted to be part of that – it’s an extension of that opportunity.”

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