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Ford polishes its tarnished brand

Improved service: Ford’s emphasis on an improved customer experience appears to be paying dividends in the showroom.

Customers starting to warm to Ford again after downward spiral in Australia

Ford logo4 May 2016

FORD Australia attributes its 2016 sales renaissance to its improving image among Australian vehicle buyers, saying it has gone from being a motor company that struggled to retain customers a couple of years ago to one that is now in the business of conquesting sales among private buyers.

The company says initiatives such as its free service loan car and service reception concierge programs, as well as new halo products such as the latest Mustang, have helped to lift Ford’s brand reputation from near the bottom of industry rankings to close to the top echelon.

It also says its advertising campaign showcasing its big investment in local car development programs has helped to counter the perception that Ford was planning to desert Australia when local manufacturing of Falcon and Territory finishes later this year.

The Ford image had been battered by customer reports of faults with products such as Focus and Fiesta variants equipped with Powershift dual-clutch transmissions.

But after years of decline, Ford vehicle sales are on the rise this year, up 18.2 per cent to the end of April, according to official VFACTS data.

Last month, Ford outsold traditional rival Holden – 6842 to 6710 – for the first time in any month since the 20th century, gaining fourth place on the April sales ladder.

While Ford is making up lost ground this year, Holden has gone backwards to the tune of 8.2 per cent, although the lion brand still leads Ford on a year-to-date basis.

Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood told GoAuto that it was “fragile, early days” in the recovery process for Ford, but that the signs were good that the brand transformation was working.

He said Ford’s April sales growth of 32.5 per cent compared with the same month last year was off a low base, as “April was a tough month for us last year”.

In that month, Ford sales dipped to just 5163 units, a plunge of almost 20 per cent over the same month of 2014.

Mr Sherwood said a lot of the gains at Ford since then had been made in the background, in areas relating to customer service.

He said the widely advertised free loan car program was a visible sign of that, but the changes were much broader, enhancing the customer experience “every step of the way”.

Mr Sherwood described Ford’s Australian-developed Ranger ute – Ford’s top-selling vehicle – as one of the company’s “bellwether products” in Australia and central to its sales strategy.

“We have big objectives for Ranger 4x4,” he said. “Last month, we outsold (Toyota) HiLux 4x4, and we believe this shows our plan is getting traction.”

Mr Sherwood said achieving internal goals, including customer satisfaction targets and sales of products such as Ranger, were more important to Ford than, for example, outselling Holden.

He said Ford’s focus had been on private retail buyers rather than fleets – a move that had cost it overall sales.

“That is what is driving our business now,” he said.

Mr Sherwood said Ford’s own customer satisfaction levels on sales and service had been transformed.

“I have seen internal data that shows we have gone from the bottom quartile of the industry to the top quartile,” he said.

“Now that is starting to translate into high retention numbers.”

Among the success stories for Ford this year has been the American-built Mustang that has not only gone from a standing start in January to top of the sportscar sales charts but also given Ford’s brand image a fillip.

In April, its 690 sales placed it ahead of Mazda’s MX-5 and Toyota’s 86. Year to date, it has acquired 1808 new owners – almost half the 2016 Australian allocation of 4000 units from the Flat Rock factory in the United States.

As well, the Ford Focus – once the Blue Oval’s top seller in Australia before it fell on hard times – partly as a result of widely reported transmission woes – is also showing signs of a small recovery, with a 32.5 per cent sales gain in April.

The Kuga SUV, Mondeo mid-sizer and Transit Custom van were all also in positive territory for the month.

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