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Ford to stick with Kuga nameplate

No Escape: Ford Australia will stick with the Kuga name for its facelifted mid-size SUV.

Local Ford boss denies negative name connotations and says no to Escape badge

Ford logo17 Mar 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FORD Australia will not revert to the Escape badge for the Kuga come facelift time later this year, despite rumours of a switch as a result of resistance to the nameplate.

According to Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman too many resources have been plied into establishing the Kuga in this country for a change of naming tack.

Additionally, Australia will continue current Ford policy of using the factory source name for the model it imports – even though it flies in the face of the long-touted One Ford policy created by retired ex-Ford Motor Company president and CEO, Alan Mulally.

The Australian-bound Kuga is made in Spain and so follows the European-market badging while the American-market Escape version is from Kentucky. The same reasoning applies for the Mondeo and the Fusion, with the former being from the same Valencia plant as the closely related medium SUV compared to the US-manufactured latter mid-sized sedan.

“We don’t have any plans to change the nomenclature of that vehicle,” Mr Whickman said.

“I’m a big believer of adopting and having true global products and names, and the Mondeo and Kuga are obviously vehicles we take out of Europe, and they’re badged that way, so they’re one of a few vehicles for us in the Ford world where we do have different names.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in the Kuga to get the name out there, and we want to continue that so there are no plans to change.”

Unveiled at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona in February, the 2017 Kuga facelift sees it adopt Ford’s latest family face as per the Edge and Everest SUVs, Sync 3 hands-free connectivity system as part of a cabin refresh, a new downsized 1.5-litre diesel engine shared with PSA Peugeot Citroen, updated driver-assist technology and a revised AWD system.

There has been some resistance to the Kuga nameplate because of its phonetic similarity to ‘cougar’ – widespread and sexist slang applied to older women who date younger men. Also meaning ‘plague’ in Slovenian, it has made several ‘worst car name’ lists since it was announced for the original TE version at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show, as a quick search engine exercise reveals.

It is believed the Blue Oval chose the name because of its similar sounding connotations to both the European Cougar and Puma coupes of the 1990s.

Ford had hoped the second-gen TF Kuga would sell in high volume numbers when it launched in early 2013, but it has only been a middling performer at best last year’s 4344 sales represented a 25 per cent slip despite significant performance upgrades, not even making the medium SUV top 10 (and trailing the ancient Holden Captiva 5).

It is worth noting, however, that it has made a recovery in the first two months of 2016 on the back of a heavy retail promotion.

Ford ditched the Escape name when the 2001-vintage BA model (a fraternal twin to the Mazda Tribute) was phased out in early 2012, replaced by the short-lived (in Australia) TE Kuga powered by a Volvo-made 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo.

Meanwhile, in February, it was reported that Ford registered the Kuga name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, suggesting that the badge may migrate to North America after all.

It is possible that it may eventually adorn a smaller SUV to slot underneath the popular US Escape when the next-generation version due in about 2018 invariably grows in size. Ford’s smallest SUV, the Fiesta-based EcoSport, is not sold in North America.

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