MOTOR MATTERS FREEWHEELING BY KATE McLEOD
Dour headlines report that auto sales haven’t been this bad since the 1974 oil crisis. True, auto sales in the U.S. have gone to the dogs. Sales in 2008 were 13,196,835 units, down from 16,073,167 the previous year, a 17.9 percent decline, according to Edmunds.com.
Ford reported a 20.2 percent decline in U.S. sales for the year. All that bad news and Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford is optimistic. Where is he getting that? He happily points to the following:
Ford’s decision not to participate in the initial federal bailout allows a separate, more positive image with the public. Jaguar and Land Rover have been sold, eliminating some losses and consolidating global operations. Plus, Ford is getting good marks from magazines such as Consumer Reports and Car and Driver on quality and the coming new cars.
The February issue of Car and Driver rated the Fusion Hybrid (39 city/ 37 highway mpg) over the comparable hybrids from Toyota, Nissan and Chevrolet and said, “Superb quality. Ford hits one over the fence and into the ionosphere.” Frankly, this is the first time in memory that a Ford car has been rated over a Toyota.
Ford recently announced that new four-cylinder Ford Fusion S has been certified by the EPA at 34 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in the city — beating both the gasoline-powered Camry and Honda Accord models. The news follows certification of the Ford Fusion Hybrid at 41 mpg rating in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, topping the Toyota Camry hybrid by 8 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway.
“This has turned out to be quite an opportunity for us, because it has put a real spotlight on Ford,” Mulally told The Detroit News in a recent interview. “We just need to continue to tell our story.”
Ford’s numbers are down in the U.S., but so are everyone’s. Toyota’s December sales were down 37 percent from a year ago, GM was down 31 percent. Honda reported a 35 percent loss for the month. Ford’s December drop of 22 percent was its 23rd in the past 24 months. But Ford’s market share actually has been creeping up for the past few months. In fact, December sales came within 3,600 of catching #2, Toyota. This race is worth watching.
The new product, kudos on current product, breakthrough technologies, such as the parking assist and twin turbo engines, plus avoiding the demands attached to treasury bailout money are all in the plus column for Ford.
The new product includes the Ford Fiesta, due to be introduced in the U.S. in 2010 as a sedan and sporty hatchback.
The Fiesta is already on sale in Europe and looks like a hit. This will be the smallest car built in North America, what they call a “B” size, and combined fuel economy could run around 63 mpg highway U.S. as it did on the EU test cycle, according to the website autobloggreen.com.
Ford’s midsize Fusion gets a refresh in 2010. There will be significant design changes inside and out, as well as that hybrid model and they go on sale this spring.
The Focus, Ford’s most popular car worldwide has already received an update, including the addition of safety equipment and an altered engine that gets EPA ratings of 24 city/33 highway mpg, with a combined rating of 28 mpg with an automatic and 24 city/35 highway with the five-speed manual. The front-wheel-drive Focus comes in multiple trim lines as a sedan or a coupe and has received good marks from car reviewers as a vehicle that delivers a lot of driving character and good styling for the price.
And there’s a touched up Mustang, not really a new car but with “better, road manners and a vast improved interior,” according to Car and Driver.
Then there’s the Ford Flex, with lots of compliments but not that many sales. It has received awards as the “Ultimate Road Trip Car” by Maxim Magazine to “Overall CUV of the Year” by the Texas Auto Writers Association. It was a finalist for the 2008 North American Car of the Year.
The Flex with estimated fuel economy of 17 city/24 highway mpg is one cool boxy retro answer for minivan shunners. But in November sales were only 2,203 and December was 2,685 and those numbers are awful. Maybe it’s the recession, maybe it’s the marketing, but the Flex is a roomy, seven-passenger vehicle with best-in-class head room and leg room in all three rows and Ford has packaged it with class-leading technologies, including Ford SYNC, voice-activated navigation, a Sony premium audio system, Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, ambient lighting, a reverse camera system and SIRIUS Travel Link. The company had better learn to sell it or Ford has a disaster on its hands.
Ford’s best seller is the F-150. The new model has improved its fuel economy by an average of 8 percent across the entire lineup. And while sales have slumped, the F-150 pickup is still a big seller for Ford.
General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have saved themselves from bankruptcy with the treasury loan package, but they will have to spend these next three months implementing restructuring plans demanded with the loan. Ford may go to the government, too, if the market continues to collapse.
But Ford’s — and Mulally’s — planning seem prescient. More to the point, they seem to know what they are doing. So yes, there will be Ford cars and trucks in our future.
By the way, that line, “There’s a Ford in your future” goes back to
World War II. It was a radio jingle:
There’s a Ford in your future,
But the one in your past,
Is the one you have now,
So you’d better make it last.
Considering how things are now, that may not be bad advice.
Contact Kate McLeod at [email protected]
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009