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Ford still waiting for predicted sales bounce-back

Van-tastic: A strong upswing in sales of the Transit Heavy is an oasis of good news among Ford Australia’s slumping sales figures.

Sales of Focus, Endura misfire as Mustang remains Ford’s most popular passenger car

11 Oct 2019

FORD Australia’s predicted product-led sales bounce-back in 2019 is yet to transpire, with year-to-date volume down 8.2 per cent and the only models not in the red being Custom and Heavy versions of the Transit van, and 4x4 variants of the Ranger ute.


On the upside, Ford has reduced reliance on the Ranger’s runaway success, which accounted for 61 per cent of the brand’s sales last year. So far this year, just over half of Ford’s 48,604 sales were Rangers.


Ranger 4x4 sales are almost flatlining, up just 0.2 per cent YTD, while 4x2 versions are down 21.9 per cent. In 2018 the Ranger 4x4 and 4x2 were respectively down 0.1 per cent and 9.2 per cent.


In December 2018, Ford Australia and New Zealand president and CEO Kay Hart said arrival of the Endura large SUV and fourth generation Focus small hatch and wagon late in the year had impacted sales but that a turnaround was expected.


“We’ve launched basically over 90 per cent of the showroom between the months of August to December,” said Ms Hart at the time.


“As we come in with new models, we’d obviously expect volume to come from those models, so we’re looking forward to growth next year.”


Despite meeting critical acclaim, year-to-date sales of the new Focus are 19.5 per cent behind those of the runout model in the same time period of 2019. That said, the model was up 54.5 per cent for the month of September with 187 recorded sales.


The Endura has also failed to gain traction with just 1514 finding homes, less than the Territory used to regularly sell in one month.


Speaking with GoAuto at the Mustang R-Spec reveal in Sydney this week, Ms Hart attributed the Focus’s strong September to arrival of the crossover-style Active variant that was initially expected to be second most-popular variant after the ST-Line.


“There is no doubt that this market is extremely tough at the moment,” she said. “As for Focus, we’ve just got volume of the Active variant coming in as of August this year.”


But the Focus, which plays in Australia’s second-biggest segment in terms of volume, was comprehensively outsold by the Mustang in September by a factor of more than two to one. The Escape medium SUV that represents Ford in the nations most popular segment, sold 255 fewer units than the Focus.


In fact, the Mustang outsells all of Ford’s passenger cars and SUVs bar the Ranger-based Everest, which on 3967 units year-to-date is not that far ahead of the Mustang on 3370.


Ms Hart claimed that Ford “operates in a very small portion of those segments in terms of where our line-up sits”.


“We’re doing the volume commensurate for where we sit in those segments; we do not sit in the price entry of those segments. We’d love to be selling more cars but are happy with our performance based on the variants we have available.”


However, Focus sales pale in comparison with the Volkswagen Golf that, aside from high-performance R variants, operates in a similar price range. Comparing the Escape with a Kia Sportage tells a similar story.


The Focus starts from $23,490 plus on-road costs for the under-the-radar Ambiente base model hatch GoAuto exposed in June, rising to $44,690 for the ST hatch, whereas the Golf opens at $24,990 for the 110TSI Trendline and the GTI costs $46,190. Year-to-date VW sold almost four times as many Golfs in Australia as Ford did the Focus.


Like the Escape, Kia’s Sportage is at the small end of the mid-size SUV segment and is also offered with eight variants across a mix of petrol, diesel and all-wheel-drive options.


The Escape starts from $30,490 for the automatic front-drive Ambiente petrol (a manual is offered on this variant for $1500 less) and tops out at $48,340 for the Titanium diesel with all-wheel drive. Sportage prices range from $30,190 to $47,690 and Kia sells almost four Sportages for every Escape, with 10,526 units reported year-to-date.


Notionally replacing the Territory, the Endura large SUV is a bit of a segment-straddler, offering only five seats in a category dominated by seven-seaters.


Despite its seating shortfall, the Endura is priced to match seven-seat segment rivals such as the Mazda CX-8 and ranges from $44,990 to $67,990.


Five-seat large SUV contenders include the Jeep Grand Cherokee that starts higher at $47,500 and heads well north of $80,000 with V8-powered and niche variants. Yet Jeep sold 2,338 examples year-to-date against the Endura’s 1514.


Ms Hart denied it was a mistake to kill off the Territory badge and name its successor Endura – the Edge nameplate used globally was already trademarked in Australia by Toyota – but admitted the model suffered a lack of awareness in the market.


“I don’t think it was a mistake (to call it Endura instead of Territory). It’s just always harder to get some momentum behind a new nameplate with no history and no connotation,” she said.


“It’s a brand-new nameplate, it’s a nameplate that’s only in Australia and there’s no doubt that we have a job to do in terms of creating awareness of that product. Our customers that drive it give us phenomenal feedback so it’s a great product in terms of where it sits, we just need to create the awareness of that product line.”


All Ford’s really good news comes from its commercial vehicles, the seemingly evergreen Ranger shored up by the Transit Heavy, up 15.8 per cent on 756 units, and the Custom, up 2.7 per cent with 1529 sold.


“For the commercial vehicle space, with Transit and Ranger we have two very strong performers,” said Ms Hart. “And then Mustang performing very well in the performance car market.”


Asked whether she thought having a sportscar outsell ostensibly more mainstream models was a problem – even Porsche relies on the Macan and Cayenne SUVs to enable the continued existence of its sportscars – Ms Hart said the model continued to exceed expectations.


“I think Mustang for us has become such a solid piece of our line-up,” she said.


“When we initially launched, we never really knew – new model coming in, a sportscar, what is the real demand – so we are extremely happy with the demand in terms of sales and we think very strong levels of demand for this vehicle will remain.”

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