Can Ford regain lost ground with Transit? – Words by Chris Mullett
Recent history shows that Ford Motor Company has been incapable of performing even basic marketing activities when it comes to presenting its light commercial range to the Australian buyer.
Despite producing excellent products such as the Ford Transit Custom and Transit standard van that rank competitively against all-comers on a global basis, its Australian operation has failed to identify its LCV virtues to potential customers, seemingly preferring to highlight the performance aspect of the Mustang, while ignoring the bread-and-butter market of van deliveries.
Back in 2017, Ford Australia registered 74 versions of the Transit bus. By 2018, sales had slumped to just 13 units, resulting in this model being apparently withdrawn, without fanfare, from the Australian market.
Sales of the Ford Transit Custom van and cab/chassis models (2.5 to 3.5 tonnes) in 2018 peaked at 1880 units for a market share of 9.3 percent (Source: VFACTS February 2019). Compare this performance to South Korean manufacturer Hyundai with its iLOAD, achieving a market share of 21.6 percent and sales of 4362 units, and the dark clouds can be seen gathering on the horizon. Add in the sales figures of Toyota’s 15-year-old design of the HiAce at 6852 units (33.9 percent market share), plus the fact that even Volkswagen came in ahead with its Transporter at 2095 units (market share 10.4 percent) and the figures are catastrophic.
Ford’s LCV performance was no better in the higher weight category of the Transit standard van (3.5 to 8 tonnes), with sales of 805 units for a market share of 4.2 percent. This left Transit trailing behind Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (3230 units and 17 percent share), IVECO (1544 and 8.1 percent), Renault Master (1535 units and 8.1 percent), followed by Fiat Ducato (1175 units and 6.2 percent). Japanese cabover light trucks from Fuso, Hino and Isuzu all romped home well ahead of the Blue Oval products.
Through Q1 of 2019, Ford looks set to repeat its lacklustre performance with Transit Custom continuing to trail Toyota with its soon-to-be-replaced HiAce (256 v 855), and Hyundai’s iLOAD at 662 units. Renault’s Trafic leads Transit Custom with 315 sales, ahead of Chinese import LDV, which has so far scored 237 unit sales.
When looking at higher payloads available with the Ford Transit standard van in the 3.5 to 8-tonne category once again, the figures portray a disaster for Ford dealership profit. Here it trails six other brands competing in this weight range.
So, what went wrong with Ford’s marketing when it comes to its LCVs? From Delivery’s standpoint the problems start with a failure to significantly identify two very different products by calling both models Transit. The Transit Custom is the medium-duty product, whereas the Transit standard van is larger, with higher payload capability. It also fails to identify the reasoning behind some of the models featuring front-wheel drive, while others are rear-wheel drive.
The Ford dealer network is capable of maintaining higher volumes of sales than probably most other brands, and should be well used to competing against Toyota, where HiAce and HiLux meet in the same segments of the market as Transit and Ranger.
LCV buyers do not respond to web blogs and the juvenile influencers currently favoured by the car companies. The LCV buyer profile wants safety, sophistication, payload capability, a strong warranty, customer service support, and convenience to their business.
LCV buyers rely heavily on information relating to fleet purchases from industry groups such as the Australasian Fleet Managers Association for advice and feedback in relation to vehicle selection. They are avid readers of print media that provides drive evaluations and concise product information.
As those who have tried to gain information from manufacturer websites will attest, it is often extremely difficult to source basic specification and pricing details from web-based brochures. They also don’t want to sign up to websites in order to receive unsolicited phone calls and a barrage of additional emails from an overseas-based call centre.
Ford has yet to discover the market desire for “ready to work” LCVs, producing a variety of locally built, pre-bodied cab chassis units available for immediate delivery. The Japanese importers have this section very well covered already, with a range of options from tray backs to tippers, fridge pans and pantechs.
LCV dealerships also have to recognise that taking a van or cab chassis out of circulation for a day costs the owner in the form of lost revenue. Service options have to be tailored for after-hours maintenance for a vehicle to be dropped off in the late afternoon and collected early in the morning. Replacement customer loan LCVs, rather than a hatchback, also need to be available to keep a customer on the road.
The Ford dealerships surveyed by Delivery shut their service departments at 5pm on weekdays and didn’t offer Saturday appointments. Commercial vehicle dealerships work to support their customers, whereas passenger car dealerships appear to work to support their own staffing agendas.
Against this atrocious example of Ford’s sales performance, there is good news for loyal Ford customers. Kay Hart, the newly appointed Ford Australia and New Zealand President and CEO, appears to be very focused on improving the company performance, with a clearer understanding than her predecessors when it comes to recognising what can be achieved by Ford in the LCV sector.
Reaching out to LCV buyers is not rocket science, but it does require intent and ability. As Hart reforms the Ford Australia sales and marketing team to improve their performance, Delivery hopes to see the company able to capitalise on the strength and heritage of the Transit name and grow its market share accordingly. The existing Transit range is exceptionally impressive, as proven by its performance under Delivery’s exacting road test evaluation criteria. It’s failed to reach its sales potential because a lack of serious marketing activity has missed the opportunity to establish it as a first-thought option.
Transit Custom buyers will have to wait until Q3 for a range of upgrades that includes Driver Assist Technology, with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping aid with driver alert system, blind spot information system with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic headlamps with auto high beam function, and rain-sensing wipers.
The 340S Short Wheelbase (SWB) van scores an increase in payload and towing capability, with all models receiving a powertrain upgrade of 30 percent in power, increased torque and tighter Euro 6.2 emissions standards. The upgraded 2.0-litre EcoBlue powertrain now produces 125 kW of power, with peak torque rated at 390 Nm. The maximum permitted braked trailer weight rise from 1800 kg to 2150 kg.
Three brand-new models include the Transit Custom 320S Sport Van, which boasts a further increase in power and performance to 136 kW and 405 Nm of torque – available exclusively as a six-speed automatic. Buyers also gain 17-inch black machined alloy wheels and a body styling kit with unique front and rear bumpers plus side skirts.
Body-coloured mirrors and a gloss black grille up front are joined by bi-xenon HID headlights that also feature static bending and LED daytime running lights for greater visibility. An upgraded interior includes a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and partial leather seat trim to complement the textured leather steering wheel. A steel bulkhead, side wall trim board and load floor protection will be standard on all Transit Custom van models.
Also joining the Transit Custom line-up are two new crew van models that Ford calls the “Double Cab-in-Van” version (DCiV). These are available only as a long wheelbase version in two specifications: the base 340L DCiV, and 320L Sport DCiV. Matched to the six-speed automatic transmission, both models offer a standard rear bulkhead, spacious second-row seating accessed by dual side load doors, and 4.4-cubic metres of load space.
In base 340L guise, the Transit Custom DCiV reflects the highly-equipped van models, including the 125 kW/390 Nm EcoBlue powertrain, comprehensive DAT suite with Adaptive Cruise Control, AEB with pedestrian detection, plus SYNC 3 multimedia system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
The 320L Sport DCiV is targeted towards buyers looking for a capable, premium van that can be used for both work and family duties, with five seats including separate driver and front passenger seats. It offers the same additional features as the 320S Sport Van, plus the upgrade to the 136 kW/405 Nm EcoBlue powertrain, standard sat-nav, partial leather seat trim with eight-way powered driver’s seat, and sports styling with 17-inch machined alloy wheels and bi-xenon HID headlamps.
Included in the range are class-leading safety features such as six airbags (driver, front passenger, front side curtain, front side seat), dynamic stability control with roll-over mitigation and trailer sway control, side-wind stabilisation, load adaptive control and hill launch assist. There’s also a full colour rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and SYNC Emergency Assist
A five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is standard on every Ford Transit Custom, with ownership benefits including 30,000 km service intervals, Ford Loan Car Program and VanCare for eligible customers and participating dealers.
When the Transit Custom was initially launched, there was no automatic transmission or tailgate option available. Ford has now fixed both those omissions, offering a choice between barn doors or a rear tailgate, plus sliding side load doors with or without windows, plus a high roof option available on base SWB and LWB van models.
Transit Custom owners also stand to benefit from an increasingly compelling Ford Service Benefits programme. In addition to Service Loan Car, VanCare Membership (including Roadside Assistance) and sat-nav updates, Transit Custom ownership includes a maximum of $349 (including GST) for the first four years/120,000 km (whichever occurs first) of scheduled servicing at Ford dealerships.
Pricing starts at $42,190 for the 340S short wheelbase van with six-speed manual transmission, rising to $53,490 for the 320L Sport crew cab with six-speed auto, which is on par with much of its competition.
With a renewed focus on LCV marketing, Ford can re-establish Transit to head up the sales charts and regain the crown it once held from its introduction in Europe back in 1965. History shows it is the best-selling van of all time with global sales of more than eight million units.
At Delivery, we recommend a further rationalising of the Transit product range to simplify selection, deleting the six-speed manual transmission and high roof option, standardising on the six-speed auto with one power and torque option, and reintroducing the bus version. Model complexity increases buyer confusion and reduces stock availability, in a market such as Australia where automatic transmissions are the preference.