Ford Australia is targeting significant growth in the SUV market as it looks to a future less dependent on its struggling Falcon large car.
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With the Falcon in decline, falling to its lowest sales result on record in 2011, the local car maker has little choice but to focus on vehicle segments such as SUVs where there is ever-increasing popularity.

The company is the only homegrown manufacturer to build an SUV, but since the Territory was released in 2004 Ford Australia has gradually taken its eye of the soft-roader ball. It took seven years to offer a more fuel efficient, diesel version of the Territory (pictured below), while it has until this year competed in the volume compact SUV category with the ageing Escape that secured just a 2.1 per cent market share.

With the diesel engine helping to establish the Territory as Australia’s best-selling SUV in 2011, Ford Australia says the arrival of the new Kuga compact SUV is the start of a renewed attack on the segment.

“SUVs account for more than 24 per cent of Oz market,” Ford Australia’s general manager of marketing, David Katic, says. “When you consider how big that segment is, there is obviously lots of opportunity for us.

“There is strong volume growth opportunity for us in Australia. [And] the Kuga is the first step in that [SUV] growth.”

Ford Australia decided to introduce the current-generation Kuga compact SUV (below) in February despite the model being four years old and due to be replaced in early 2013 by an all-new successor (main image). The company will only have 200 units per month to sell in a segment that accounted for 121,387 sales in 2011 – 12 per cent of the overall market – and sees the likes of the Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail regularly break 1000 sales each month.

Katic says it was important for Ford to get the Kuga name into the market to establish its name ahead of the next-generation model.

“What is a really big challenge, given there are so many competitors in the marketplace, is getting your brand name out there,” he says. “And that for us is the most important thing - getting the Kuga name out there and building a reputation that it’s a stylish, quality car with lots of good features.

“And the next one will build on that."

The current Kuga is offered with only one engine and starts at a relatively high price of $38,990, but Katic makes it clear there will be more choice and more affordable prices for the all-new Kuga when it arrives in early 2013.

“We’ll look to a full line-up going forward [for the next Kuga] … lots of engine options and all those sort of things.

“Clearly when you look at the market and simplistically break up the compact SUV segment, there’s that sort of $35,000 level that’s like a natural break point, and below $35,000 there’s a good volume we want to access.”

Ford’s SUV offerings will expand beyond the Territory and Kuga. The company will also release the Fiesta-based, city-sized Ecosport sub-compact SUV (above) in early 2013, while on a larger scale there will the still-to-be-officially-confirmed Ranger-based SUV that may be called Endeavour or Everest.

Click to read a review of the new Ford Kuga.