Friday, February 17, 2006

Re-read Kevin Wilson's piece in AutoWeek on Ford

As I sit shaking in fear over what a certain pinhead Splogger may do to me, I've been re-reading Kevin Willson's piece on Ford from the Feb 6 issue of AutoWeek. I had commented on it earlier this month, saying jokingly that he must be reading my blog. He has 7 points in is "Seven Ways Forward" article, moves he believes Ford can regain market share. Most have been heard here and elsewhere before. But it's a nice day, and I felt like rehashing them here again. Now Point 1 was the C-1 Euro Focus. Kevin rightly points out, that with the market shift towards smaller cars, because of higher fuel prices, this should pay for itself. To remain competative in this once again growing segment, Ford needs to jump start Focus sales with the new platform and I would say with an SVT version based on either the ST from Europe or the MazdaSpeed3. In my opinion, this is a no brainer.
Kevin's 2nd point is "Rethink Minivan" and he points to the Fairlane Concept built on the 500/Freestyle platform and the Euro SAV built on the stretched C-1 platform. The Fairlance according to reports has been green lighted for 2008. I don't necessarilly agree on the SAV, but could see it as a Lincoln or Mercury, with it's plush interior and skylight roof. Sized just a little larger than a Mazda5 it's a wonderful vehicle. Ford's FreeStar is crap, pure and simple, even with it's larger 4.2 V6 and deep discounts. So maybe Kevin has a point.
Now Kevin's point 3 is something I've been saying for a long time, and it's obvious that Ford would have a winner with a new Bronco if it's done right. But Kevin's assertation that the Bronco be combined with a program to replace the Ranger is way off base. The Bronco concept would steal sales from the Toyota FJ Cruiser, that's certain, but does Kevin realize how small this really is? It was supposed to be based on B-segment Fiesta/EcoSport mechanicals with a 1.4 Diesel and Hybrid components. The same chassis would not serve well as a Ranger replacement. The new Ranger shown in Thailand is the right direction for the Ranger, not this Bronco. This would fit between the FJ Cruiser and vehicles like the Honda Element. It's unlikely to see production anytime soon.
Kevin's 4th point is a homerun in my book, but could be a grand slam. Kevin says bring the Ford of Australia Ute here as a Mercury or Lincoln branded Ranchero type of truck. He sees it replacing the Mark LT. Kevin, close but not a winner. Yes bring the Falcon Ute here, sell it as a Mercury not a Lincoln, in fact bring the entire Falcon range here, as replacements for the Panther platform (Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/TownCar) but don't kill the Mark LT. With the success of Cadilacs trucks, the LT is cheap insurance. Built on the same line as the F150, the LT can't cost much to produce, keep it until sales simply decline.
Kevin gets a little wide here with point 5. He simply says B-segment Subcompact and after listing competitors like the Kia Rio, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent, he mentions that crap SynUS concpet from Ford as being a failure (that's the turd that looked like a bank vault on wheels.) Then he mentions the EcoSport built on Fiesta Mechanicals.
Kevin goes a little farther afield when he mentions the Model U concept from 2002. This one you may recall was to be a "Recyclable" car, utilizing alternative materials. A sort of crossover for the Siera Club.
And then finally Kevin pulls this one out of his hat. The Ford Faction concept from 2003. Now with all of the B-segment Cubes headed our way, Kevin may be onto something here. Based on Fiesta/Mazda2 mechanicals, this is a sharp little vehicle. This is cool!!!
Kevin's 6th point, what he calls "Ameri-Ka" seeks a stylish B segment coupe, built off Ka/Fiesta mechanicals. I agree, although I'm not sure the Ka is the one.
But as if reading my mind Kevin points to the Reflex, my new favorite concept. Kevin sees it as a new Mercury, and I can live with that. I WANT THIS !!!!
Now point 7 "A True Compact Pickup" makes no sense at all. Again Kevin calls for the replacement of the Ranger with a new "Compact" truck, because he see the Ranger replacement moving up in size. But even if the Ranger moves up to "mid-size" like the competition, where does he see the market for smaller compact trucks? The Bantam/Courier mini trucklet seen here is again built on Fiesta mechanicals and front wheel drive. I see it as a niche vehicle, maybe competing with the likes of Scion Xb and Honda Element. Scion has shown concept trucklet based on the Xb mini mpv. But could it sell in large enough numbers?

The only way I see many of Kevins points working, is if Ford builds a new plant with flexible capability making several of these models based on the new Fiesta/Mazda2 platform. Not that it's impossible, actually I'd love to see it. One new plant building The various models on the same platform, with engine and drivetrain options including all wheel drive and Diesel engines. If you can build several versions of the 500/Montego/FreeStyle/MKS/Fairlane at the same plant, why can't you build the Bronco/EcoSport/Faction/Reflex/Courier or others at a different new plant? Building the cars in North America protects you from curency fluctuations, and allows you to change product mix from the plant in accordance with demand quicker.

So I don't really see 7 points, but 4. First bring (build) the C-1 Focus here, second re-energize minivan or people mover sales with new more interesting product, third bring the Falcon Ute (entire line actually) here for Mercury and fourth utilize Fiesta/Mazda2 platform to create several new niche models that would invigorate Ford's lineup and defray costs by common components and flexible production.

Nice work Kevin, your plan with my changes could go a long way to the "Way Forward." Let's hope that someone from Ford reads your magazine and even better my blog.

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