Ford’s regional boss is sufficiently dissatisfied with the modest sales of its Escape SUV in Australia to go on the record about it, and says he is looking at adding “emotional derivatives” with performance or luxury bents to shake things up.
The Escape is one of the world’s most popular crossovers, yet despite some sales growth in 2017 compared to the badly-named Kuga it replaced, managed just 3.0 per cent market share here in our fastest-growing segment.
Put another way, medium-SUVs have a 16.5 per cent overall market share here now, but the Escape makes up only 6.4 per cent of Ford’s Australia sales. Sub-par, no matter how you cut it.
Peter Fleet is the British-accented group vice-president of Ford Asia Pacific, who oversees operations of the company here above local president and CEO Graeme Whickman.
“I would definitely like to be doing better with Escape in Australia, that vehicle is a great success all around the world. I frequently discuss with Graeme what is it we need to do more of in Australia on that vehicle,” he said.
“Positive discussions!” he added quickly.
“It’s a super car, right. There were issues with the name before so that ’s why we introduced the new one as an Escape. The team tell me that’s had a positive impact.
“But I would still like to see us do a lot more, and we were looking at what we can do with emotional derivatives to try and build more interest in it.”
Now the fun part: speculation. Ford UK offers a derivative called the Kuga ST-Line that here could rival the Tiguan 162 TSI Highline and Kia Sportage GT-Line.
This ‘sporty’ version gets red stitching, dark headlining, aluminium pedals, ambient lighting, 18-inch dark machined alloys, a body kit, unique headlights, black roof rails and firmer suspension.
Ford Australia has suggested that such a version might be a good place to start.
There’s also the ‘luxurious’ Escape Vignale, which in Europe is designed to compete with the Germans.
The Escape problem is actually a wider one for Ford Australia which, despite recording quite strong sales over the past few years as it’s transitioned away from local manufacturing, has become very reliant on just two models.
The massively successful Ranger ute, Australia’s number-two vehicle behind its Toyota HiLux rival, and the Mustang, Australia’s number-one-selling sports car by a country mile, make up precisely two-thirds (66.4 per cent) of its overall sales.
Models including the Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport are also all battlers within their respective segments, with market share of 1.9 per cent, 2.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent. Ford Australia’s overall market share is 6.6 per cent.
Yet it’d be fair to say that these — perhaps EcoSport excluded — aren’t exactly top priorities.
“I think the Ford brand’s success today, and going forward, in Australia is going to be around trucks, SUVs and performance vehicles. It’s where the strength is today and the future,” Fleet said.