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by Matt Campbell

The Ford EcoSport was one of the early arrivals in the now-booming small SUV segment, and that may well be the reason it has struggled for relevance, according to the company’s local chief.

Ford Australia president and CEO, Graeme Whickman, told CarAdvice at the launch of the 2017 Ford Transit Custom that the booming small SUV segment is becoming even more important than it was in the past.

“I think that’s quickly evolved, and so the question for us is – were we on the ground floor, or did we miss the elevator?” he posited. “And the question then is, how can we become a little bit more known, a little bit more relevant, because I think when people started switching to that segment, we weren’t the new kid on the block.

“We were one of the first there, with EcoSport. When we arrived I think the [Holden] Trax was just launching at that time, we were in before the [Mazda] CX-3, Toyota definitely wasn’t there [with the C-HR],” Whickman said.

“So we were at the start of it, and I can remember – because it was when I first arrived into this country, in late 2013 – and I don’t think people actually knew what the segment was, or what they were looking for, either.

“Suddenly you had Mazda coming along, and then Toyota, and I think it’s becoming more of the zeitgeist at the moment – people have more interest, their antennas are up, so that’s a challenge for us, but I think there’s an opportunity for us there,” he said, pointing to the fact the brand will be launching an updated version of the EcoSport (below) later this year.

The company will be hoping the updated model will freshen up the presence of the EcoSport in terms of sales, too, with just 554 units sold to the end of May 2017, in a segment that has seen a tally of 37,706 units over that period. And there are new arrivals in the wings, too, with the Hyundai Kona launching in October this year, and the equivalent Kia due here in 2019.

“Again, the reality there is that segment is probably four or five per cent – where it will go will be the interesting thing. We predict it will get bigger.

“It’ll be interesting, but in proportional terms, absolutely – it’s the growing piece, right? – but absolutes, you look at the next segment up, and over the last few years it’s gone from 12-ish to now 16 or 17 per cent [of the total market share],” he said, referring to the arena in which the Escape plays, and is doing better than its awkwardly-named processor, the Kuga, did.

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