Ford unveils new models in drive for European growth

Ford chief executive and president Alan Mulally: Ford will "bring down production to match lower demand"

Carmaker Ford has unveiled a string of new models, including revamped versions of its best-selling Fiesta, Mondeo and Kuga brands.

The wave of new models is designed to revive sales in Europe.

There is a new family of Transit commercial vehicles, and the launch in Europe of the Ford Mustang, the US sports car.

It comes after the US carmaker warned its European operations could suffer $1bn (£630m) losses this year.

But Ford of Europe chief executive Stephen Odell, speaking at the launch in Amsterdam, said Europe offered tremendous growth potential in the long term.

"While others are backing off or cutting product investments, we at Ford are accelerating the introduction of new products," he said.

The product changes planned over the next two years include:

  • A re-designed Fiesta that will feature new technology, including Bluetooth connectivity and a system that links drivers to local emergency services after an accident
  • A new Mondeo which Ford says will move the brand upmarket
  • New sports utility vehicles, including an revamped Kuga
  • A complete redesign of the commercial vehicle range
  • The introduction in more brands of latest technologies, including inflatable rear seats, more fuel efficient engines, and driver-assist functions

'Surprisingly poor'

Ford's share price has fallen sharply in recent months, reflecting the carmaker's difficulties.

During winter, the stock was trading close to $13. Since spring, it has been slipping and it is now trading closer to $9.

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"The surprise to many is how poorly Ford is doing," observed IHS Global Insight in an analysis on 26 July.

Ford's financial performance during the April to June quarter revealed that "North America is the only place in the world that Ford performed well", according to the analysts.

In Europe, Ford's sales fell almost 10% during the first half of 2012 to its lowest level in 17 years.

During the same period, South Korean rivals Hyundai and Kia saw sales surge, up 12% and 25% respectively.

However, Ford estimates that the European car market, including Russia, is expected to expand 20% in the next five years to 23 million vehicles.

Alan Mulally, president and chief executive of Ford, said: "Even with the near-term business environment, Europe presents a significant opportunity for profitable growth. Today, we are accelerating the introduction of our new products in Europe."

Sustainable productivity

Figures from the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) published on Thursday confirmed that the Ford Fiesta was the UK's best-selling car model in August, while the Ford Focus was the third most popular car.

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The stubbornly persistent downturn in the European car markets is painful for Ford”

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The SMMT added that the Ford Fiesta is the UK's best-selling car so far in 2012.

German consulting firm Roland Berger said that, while it believes up to 10 car factories across Western Europe could close in the next few years due to production running below capacity, Ford is one of only two carmakers it thinks may escape that fate.

"Apart from Volkswagen and Ford, other manufacturers are posting productivity rates in their plants that are unsustainable - and the market will not recover," said Roland Berger consultant Max Blanchet.

Ford believes that new models should help it fight the longer-term slump. It says it expects the Fiesta to become the world's best-selling car, overtaking Toyota's Corolla.

The company has also announced that it will export engines it builds in India to Europe for the first time.

Ford expects to have the capacity to build 600,000 engines across its two Indian plants by 2015.

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