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Ford looks hard at imported product

Show pony: The Mustang will need all its muscle to buff Ford's image in Australia in 2001.

Ford knows it is behind the eight ball on imports and wants to fix it

18 Jan 2000

FORD Australia is planning a wave of American-sourced product in a bid to pump more interest into its non-Falcon offerings.

The new vehicles include the 2001 Mustang, F250 full-size ute and the small lifestyle 4WD Escape all-terrain wagon.

In addition, the European-sourced Focus small hatch will augment the Blue Oval's positioning in the sub-$30,000 price range.

Ford is still finding it hard to secure customers for its improving collection of niche imported vehicles.

The Ka city car launched late last year amid a plume of non- traditional marketing has failed to find the reasonably modest band of owners the company forecast and more traditional marketing methods are now under evaluation.

Ford Australia's new small and medium car brand manager, Mr Stephen Kruk, readily admits the company has failed in the past as a niche importer.

His task is to reverse this problem and set Ford imports up on the sound footing enjoyed currently by traditional rival Holden.

At Holden, the Astra is selling strongly, almost catching Laser, while Vectra is whopping Mondeo eight-to-one or better in the sales race. The Barina is Holden's only weakness at present.

Ford's strength is invested in the Festiva, a car which has only 12 months to live and at present Ford is without a direct replacement. It may try to limp by on a re-specified Ka and a down spec Laser, but Festiva is worth 17,000 sales a year and the consequent flow on to dealers in terms of servicing and parts.

The Laser might lead Astra in overall sales but Ford was forced to hike Laser pricing $1000 on January 3 due to currency shifts. This wiped out Laser's price advantage over Astra which could spell trouble.

A hastily revised interior package for Laser to counter criticisms of blandness is on the way and should help perk up sales, Ford hopes.

Above the Laser, the Mondeo has sold poorly in recent years and a significant marketing and product offensive is underway to claw back some market share.

Ford admits to wanting only a small slice of the medium market at present but, surprisingly, is willing to commit significant amounts of cold hard cash to achieve a slightly more noticeable presence in the marketplace.

The revised Mondeo due on sale in early February will be replaced some time next year by the CDW 132, a bigger car than the slim- line Mondeo, sized (embarrassingly for Ford) a little closer to the Falcon.

The new car grows as it is the basis for the Jaguar X400 and will also share front and all-wheel drive options. Having the baby Jaguar - which may be called T-Type - sharing a common platform might rub some image and prestige onto the Mondeo replacement.

Unfortunately for Ford, its range hero, the Mustang, will not go on sale until next year. Mustang carries a proud tradition and is still revered and recognised by many motorists.

Ford will import left-hand drive models and have them converted to right-hand drive by Tickford Vehicle Engineering in Melbourne. The projected asking price for a V8 coupe is said to be about $100,000. Consequently, Ford expects to sell mere handfuls a month but hopes the Mustang image will rub off on other product.

But the most crucial new product is the Escape four-wheel drive wagon, twinned with Mazda's Tribute, which is expected to start flowing into dealerships early next year, but with a twist.

Despite being designed and developed in the US, Escape wagons for Australia will be built alongside Mazda Tributes in Japan.

Apparently, there is some debate over Ford's ability to trade with the escape name in Australia while Mitsubishi uses the name as a Pajero derivative. Expect some feverish behind the scenes negotiating on that one.

At the Melbourne motor show in March this year Ford will show a revised Falcon, probably minus the radical fan-blade grille though there are unlikely to be any sheet metal changes to the AU Falcon's flanks or tail.

Hot on the heels of the Falcon launch comes the Toyota Avalon, a vehicle poised to wrest sales from the rear-drive Falcon and Commodore in the vital fleet market.

Ford may be able to boost interest in all its lines by issuing a series of special edition 40th anniversary models to mark the coming of age of the Falcon nameplate.

Ford may also be able to make some mileage out of its celebration of 75 years in Australia. A series of special editions would be a handy foil to Holden's Olympic specials courtesy of its status as the official sponsor of the Sydney 2000 games.

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