"If I ran the company..." The CarAdvice team play 'fantasy football' with the automotive industry and take turns in the top seat of the big brands. What would we do if we ran the show? This time, Josh heads to Michigan in the USA to tackle the big blue oval...
My plan for Ford Australia seems straightforward, but Dearborn may think otherwise.
Here’s hoping someone at Ford’s global head office can spare a minute to read our 'road map' of the brand's Australian future.
Simplify the current line-up to the Ford Ranger ute, the Ford Everest SUV, the Ford Mustang sports coupe – and the Ford Fiesta ST and Ford Focus ST (while they last, these are probably the final fling for Ford’s analogue pocket rockets).
Unless the Ford Puma and Escape SUVs find a groundswell of support among Australian car buyers sometime soon, I would make space in Ford showrooms for other models.
First, I'd go on bended knee to Ford’s US head office and plead my case for a right-hand-drive Ford Explorer – hopefully with a folder full of fleet orders from police and other government departments around Australia as a 'down payment' on guaranteed future sales. The retail sales to mums and dads would be cream.
I’d like to think a right-hand-drive Ford Explorer is not beyond the realms of possibility. Ford US invested millions of dollars developing a right-hand-drive version of the Endura SUV, but it tanked.
Sadly, Ford spent all that money on the wrong vehicle. Had Ford spent the same tens of millions of dollars on a right-hand-drive Explorer, it would likely still be here.
Australians have an affinity for the Explorer name – we see them (and some rent them) on trips to the US – and it is the spiritual successor to the homegrown Ford Territory. And it happens to look the business.
If there is any car that can drag Australian families out of their Toyota Klugers, the Ford Explorer is it.
Someone at Ford’s US head office needs to work the calculator until the batteries run out, or the keypad breaks, to find a way to get the Explorer over the line and over here. Please?
If I ran Ford Australia I would also love to find a way to locally remanufacture right-hand-drive versions of the Ford F-150 and F-150 Raptor – in the same way Ram and Chevrolet have brought their pick-ups here.
Given the business case for a factory-built right-hand-drive F-150 still doesn't add up (Australians would buy a tiny fraction of what's sold in the US, so Ford would struggle to recoup the investment on a factory-built right-hand-drive program), a local remanufacturing operation is the only way to get the F-150 in showrooms as quickly as possible.
Every F-150 that Ford Australia would sell is a Ram or a Chevrolet Silverado that wouldn’t get sold locally. It’d be a slam dunk as well as a win-win.
Dear Ford, please look at the record sales of the Ram 1500 in Australia and the prices they’re selling for, it’s not too late.
While I was feeling brave, I'd also try to plead a case for the Ford Bronco 4WD (pictured below). Even if we wouldn't buy enough to warrant a right-hand-drive factory-built program, surely someone can put the pieces together on behalf of Ford.
The challenge for the Ford Bronco coming to Australia is the market for this type of vehicle is surprisingly small. Jeep sells about 1200 Wranglers a year here. Even if Ford could claim every one of the Jeep Wrangler's sales, that's not enough to justify a factory-built right-hand-drive Bronco.
Ford would need other right-hand-drive countries to sell the Bronco in sufficient numbers as well – which is why there is a right-hand-drive Jeep Wrangler, it's sold in big numbers in other right-hand-drive countries – or come up with a local remanufacturing solution.
To recap, imagine this: a Ford Australia showroom with a line-up of Ranger utes, the Everest SUV, the Explorer SUV, the Bronco, the Mustang, a Fiesta ST and a Focus ST, and a couple of hulking F-150s in the corner.
I’d keep the Ford Transit van ticking along to keep the fleet sales guys happy. Apparently the Transit turns a profit. So that stays.
It's a safe bet Ford Australia dealers would love the above line-up. In fact, we hear that, for some, this line-up is their dream.
Sadly, their calls have so far fallen on deaf ears – or unworkable business cases.
Ford’s corporate headquarters has more important – and more profitable – projects in need of millions of dollars in investment than a right-hand-drive Explorer, F-150, or Bronco program. But Ford has taken bigger gambles on other programs which haven't worked.
A locally remanufactured right-hand-drive F-150 would barely cost Ford a dime – before becoming a cash machine – once the tooling and engineering costs were recouped due to the huge profit margins.
All Ford needs to do is send a few thousand trucks to Australia each year instead of one of its US dealerships. With Ford’s epic US production output, it could knock out Australia’s annual F-150 order in a day-and-a-half.
Unfortunately, Ford may be too cautious to let an outside supplier remanufacture its most iconic model, the F-150.
When US car giant General Motors announced a year ago the Holden brand would be retired by the end of 2020, its arch rival Ford issued its condolences and also assured the motoring public it was here to stay.
It is true to say Ford Australia has vastly more right-hand-drive support due to the popularity of the Blue Oval brand in the UK and a strong presence in India, South Africa and Thailand – four other large right-hand-drive markets.
By comparison, General Motors had made a gradual retreat from right-hand-drive markets with the sale of the Vauxhall Opel brand in 2017 to French conglomerate Peugeot-Citroen. Meanwhile, as we now know, GM’s Thailand factory that made the Holden Colorado was under-performing.
So in many ways, compared to Holden at least, Ford Australia has the world at its feet and a global showroom from which to choose its future models.
But for whatever reason, local buyers don’t appreciate Ford’s smorgasbord of worthy European cars. Ford has been pushing that rock up a hill for years.
Consider this: in 2019, the Ford Ranger ute and Ford Everest SUV accounted for 73 per cent of all Ford Australia sales (46,293 of its total annual tally of 63,303).
Amazing right? You could be forgiven for thinking Ford Australia may as well just mirror Isuzu, sell two models, and bank huge profits.
Now consider this: in 2020, the Ford Ranger ute and Ford Everest SUV accounted for an incredible 79 per cent of all Ford Australia sales (46,969 of its total annual tally of 59,601).
The proportion of those two models in Ford Australia’s sales grew in a market that slumped by 13 per cent year-on-year.
The new Ford Ranger and Ford Bronco, which share architectures, undergoing testing in the US in 2020.
Translated: in round numbers, four out of every five new vehicles sold by Ford Australia last year were two models made in one factory.
If anything, it clearly demonstrates which models Australians view as Ford's strengths.
So, Ford Australia, how about lining up a conference call with the US and get cracking on a work-around for the Explorer, F-150 and Bronco?
The routine response to media when Ford is asked about such vehicles is "we always look at everything", while unfortunately committing to nothing.
Big car companies are increasing only going for the big wins and home runs these days – where profits and sales are all but guaranteed.
But we'd like to think someone at Ford in the US or Australia will have a red hot go at some of these icon models.
If European-sourced Ford passenger cars such as the Focus, Puma and Escape continue to underperform, at some point they will be dropped locally – and we’ll still be waiting for the Explorer, F-150 and Bronco, leaving Ford Australia showrooms with Ranger, Everest, Mustang and the Transit van.
You read it here first. Here's hoping we're wrong.
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