The power of choice: Ford of Britain's Andy Barratt on the brand's growth plans
Only halfway through his first year as Ford of Britain chairman and managing director, Andy Barratt, may have taken on the role in one of the most interesting periods in the brand’s recent history.
By his first anniversary, the Blue Oval will be well on its way through a major launch cycle. A process which will bolster the number‐one selling range around SUV, performance and luxury pillars, seeking renewed user‐chooser desirability in an increasingly diverse fleet sector.
“We are a very good brand for taking people at the start of their motoring journey,” he says. “We bring them on through Fiesta, through Focus, they may get to Mondeo. Then they reach a tipping point in their earnings and they decide that they may wish to defect because there is not a Ford that will take them on.”
Behind the glitz of new product launches, dealer investment is also underway. There are now around 60 Ford Stores in place, sales podiums for the Mustang, the Focus RS and its new Vignale luxury sub-brand.
The aim is to reach 80 by the end of the year, putting 90% of the UK population within an hour’s drive of their nearest one.
But it’s Vignale that Barratt says is becoming a common topic for conversation. Launching with the Mondeo, closely followed by the S‐Max and – though he wouldn’t confirm either way – the Edge SUV, it’s an attempt to retain drivers who would otherwise move to premium brands.
“If I go back far enough in my history, to when I was Mondeo brand manager, in around 1999 we were selling 100,000 Mondeos alone. We’ve had real compression, and it’s market forces not lack of desire for the car. The premium part [of the D‐segment] is pretty constant but segment pressure is driving non‐premium down.”
Vignale models are built to order, on a specific line at Ford’s Valencia plant, getting acoustic glass, soft leather trim on the doors and dashboard, and unique bodystyling, colours and wheel options. It’s a step up for the Mondeo, but with 70% of UK customers opting for Titanium models, it’s perhaps not as much of a stretch as it sounds.
“Vignale is the highest expression of luxury for Ford in Europe,” explains Barratt. “But it’s space that we’ve already occupied with Mondeo in the past. If you look at the price points where we are with Titanium X Sport, which we sell in huge numbers, and Titanium X, Vignale is in the same space.”
Perhaps a little like Ghia once was? “Consumers’ tastes have changed. At the premium end you can have luxury or sport, where if you go back to Ghia it was just luxury. So it won’t do the volumes a Ghia would’ve done, nor should it because there is that fragmentation of choice and series that’s happened over time.”
Vignale is also about customer service, he says. Services such as collection and delivery, complimentary washes and a bespoke app, a dedicated Vignale ‘relationship manager’ for one‐to‐one contact and possibly access to other cars on short‐term loan if required. “These people are successful, they’re time poor. The more we can take away a lot of their motoring challenges around servicing, ownership, purchase, the easier we can make the experience and the more relevant we make ourselves.
“What you’ve got is proactive relationship, not a reactive relationship.
The traditional dealer model is promiscuous. This should be enduring, it should be a love affair. We’re not doing the high discount fast‐turn fleet business, we’re doing a high quality product with a quality sales process. It’s a really different proposition for Ford, we’re really excited about it.”
However, it’s SUVs which are expected to drive volume. Kuga sales have trebled to over 30,000 units since the new model was introduced in 2013, and its US counterpart, the Escape, was recently updated – so expect a refreshed version later this year. It will join an updated Ecosport and a Europeanised version of the Edge large SUV, and sales are expected to reach around 45,000 units by the end of the year.
“In the SUV space we’re very active – it’s the fastest‐growing space in the market. The Kuga SUV space is as big as what was the Focus market historically, so it’s growing exponentially.
That SUV midsize market is as big in fleet and retail, so it really is a linear growth that you see.”
Ford’s performance products are also showing strong potential.
The Focus ST gained a diesel engine earlier this year, and the 6,700 sold to the end of October are a near three‐fold increase on 2014 full‐year figures, with 45% opting into the 2.0 TDCi version and 70% of those going to fleets. That’s higher than the Focus range as a whole.
“Historically, Ford has always owned affordable performance in the UK. The Focus ST diesel has really brought that corporate sector alive, contract hire customers absolutely adore this,” says Barrett, adding that there are opportunities among SMEs, including for the Mustang.
“If you talk to the RV providers, they see [Mustang] higher than list. I’ve proved to the guys at CAP recently that the old [Focus RS] is going for list today. If you bake that kind of depreciation in, an affordable lease should be very achievable when I look at competitive products. If I’m an SME and I’m successful, then why shouldn’t I have a performance car?”
But it doesn’t have to be user‐choosers. “We're currently building a Mustang police car, because they need high‐performance, fast‐reaction road vehicles. So why wouldn't a Mustang serve that purpose? We’re going to put it out as a demo and we’ll get the feedback.”
Ultimately, though, it’s broader appeal rather than a shift of positioning that Ford is seeking: “We don’t want to be premium, but we do want to compete with the premiums. I think that’s really key, it gives people an alternative choice. Not everyone wants to go and have a premium brand on the drive, and some people are incredibly happy and familiar with Ford.”