Has Ford lost focus on Europe as truck sales plummet?

The future of major Ford models, including the Fiesta and Focus, could be uncertain, given Ford’s plans to transform itself into an all-electric car maker, as well as its move towards SUVs.

In the US market, Ford has had significant success in moving away from what might be called “conventional” cars – hatchbacks, sedans and minivans – and entering the market with a lineup consisting almost entirely of SUVs. . Indeed, the only non-SUV in Ford’s US lineup right now is the Mustang coupe.

The Mustang’s future is secure – a new two-door Mustang coupe is already in prototype stage – but the Focus and Fiesta in Europe are looking on slightly more shaky ground.

Both cars were recently updated, with new infotainment systems for the 2022 model year, as well as upgraded “mild hybrid” engines that offer minimal electric assistance to help reduce fuel consumption and city ​​broadcasts.

However, neither car has an all-electric version or a plug-in hybrid, making both look more and more like pariahs within the Ford family. The company has pledged to manufacture only all-electric models (either fully battery-powered or plug-in hybrid power) from 2026.

Line workers assemble a 2021 Ford Bronco at their Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

This can be fixed, of course – both models will need to be replaced well before the 2026 deadline, but there are indications that this may not happen, and both could go the Mondeo’s way in the next few years. years as Ford of Europe tries to copy the American model reserved for SUVs. Worse still, some Ford insiders have apparently started laying the groundwork for such a move, referring to the Fiesta in particular as a “car of the past” and claiming that Ford has missed out on opportunities that rivals such as Opel, Peugeot and Renault have all caught. with electric versions of their small sedans.

Not the end?

Jay Ward, director of product communications at Ford of Europe, is adamant that there is still life in the Fiesta and Focus. “We have a month of backorders that we need to settle. So that kind of tells you that there’s still a huge demand for these products,” he says.

Ward also brushed off concerns that a lack of electric models could spell disaster for the Fiesta and Focus. “While electrification is clearly essential for all of us – you already know Ford’s commitment to long-term electrification – we also believe we have some sort of duty to our customers to try to keep electrification going. as affordable as possible, and these kind of so mild hybrid segments offer anything between 5 and 10 percent improvement in fuel and CO2 economy, which is very significant. very useful around towns, where of course these cars tend to be used more.

Both the Fiesta and the Focus recorded blistering sales last year in the UK and Irish markets. Traditionally the two would have topped the top 10 in both markets, but in Ireland the Focus dropped to ninth in the bestseller list, while the Fiesta languished in 31st.

A 2021 Ford Focus

A 2021 Ford Focus

The news in the UK was, on the contrary, even worse. Not only was Ford not the top-selling marque – a position it had had a virtual stranglehold on since the 1970s – but it also lost top-selling model status, in favor of Vauxhall’s Corsa, a car which notably has an electric version. act as a “halo” model.

According to Ward, however, we don’t see the full picture. “Obviously they both had a tougher year in 2021 because of the semiconductor issue, and that affected Focus and Fiesta disproportionately. And part of that is that we made the conscious decision to looking at our semiconductor availability and matching it to vehicles that we knew were in high demand – particularly vehicles such as Transit, which was so critical for fleet companies last year, and certainly vehicles like the Kuga plug-in hybrid etc.

“So that’s really why Fiesta and Focus have had a poor year of sales compared to normal. That being said, there’s still huge demand for the vehicles in the market, and while shortages of semiconductors are hopefully starting to subside, our plans are to dramatically increase production on Fiesta and Focus as we can.

All-electric crossover

That’s good for now, but what about the future? Next year we will see the first fruits of Ford’s collaboration with Volkswagen in terms of passenger cars. The two companies have partnered to manufacture commercial vehicles together, and the upcoming Transit and Transporter, as well as the Ranger and Amarok pickups, will be co-produced. Ford has also committed to using Volkswagen’s MEB electric car platform – which underpins the ID.3 and ID.4, as well as the Skoda Enyaq and Audi Q4 – and will start producing an all-electric crossover based on this package.

So far, details are light on this new all-electric model, but Ford is expected to make a major announcement about it in the coming weeks. Some indications of the longer-term future of Focus and Fiesta may also be available at that time.

What happens next is open to interpretation. Ford has developed its own unique electric platforms for the US market, for the Mustang Mach-E SUV and the F-150 Lightning pickup. So in theory it doesn’t need to use VW’s technology in Europe. Unless Ford plans to follow the example of its great rival Chevrolet and abandon Europe altogether? It’s possible, even though it’s an outside company, that Ford is looking to abandon its European operations and hand them over to VW to create badge-engineered Fords.

A 2022 <a class=Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck at the Washington Auto Show. Photography: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA” height=”349″ data-src=”https://www.irishtimes.com/polopoly_fs/1.4787117!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg” width=”620″/>

A 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck at the Washington Auto Show. Photography: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

If this is anything from a far-fetched theory, then there’s arguably more of a chance of a change in Ford’s Irish setup. Henry Ford & Sons Limited, Ford’s Irish subsidiary, was established in Cork in 1917 and is still the only national Ford importer or operator to contain the founder’s full name in its title. In recent years Ford Ireland (as it is colloquially known) has been reduced to a shell of itself, and is really now more of an offshoot of Ford of Britain, with a skeletal local management team.

Given Ford’s slump in sales in Ireland – its sales were down 22% last year from pre-pandemic levels in 2019 – it’s not impossible that Ford is looking to scale back its Irish operations and to entrust them to a local importer at a lower cost. Given that Opel has found such success doing just that, and given that the Irish market is now dominated by Toyota and Hyundai – both run in Ireland by independent importers – that is surely a bit more than pride. of the name above the door that maintains Ford’s Irish internal operations these days?

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