Stuart Martin discusses the future of Ford Australia with CEO and president, Graeme Whickman
With Falcon and Territory on the wane, Ford’s light-commercial vehicle range has become increasingly more important to the Blue Oval.
It needs the brawnier workhorse side of the equation to – quite literally – carry it back to black ink in the sales ledger, at least until the imported passenger and SUV line-ups start performing again.
Ford Australia president and CEO, Graeme Whitman, is confident of improving sales in the second half of the year and into 2016, but wouldn’t talk specifics: “I’m not going to have a target on my back, speaking candidly,” he said.
Despite the impending arrival of HiLux, and with the new Nissan Navara already on sale, Mr. Whickman is confident the Ranger – the second-top-selling model in 2011 when it launched, and Ford’s top-seller since 2013 – is competitive.
“I would say our aspirations are positive and we’re confident that we should be able to do better, but, having said that, we’ll have to earn the right to do that, the product will speak for itself and we’ll see what the consumers will say,” he said.
So far this year, 4×4 LCV ute sales stand at 79,082, up by 3.1 percent and the 4th biggest segment in the overall market. However, 4×2 sales are down 5.6 percent, with 24,197 sales – the only commercial segment in negative territory.
Last year, LCV utes totalled 175,373 sales – 4×2 sales were down 6.7 percent and 4x4s dropped by 3.3 percent, but the 4WD segment alone was second only to small cars in sales in 2014.
Ford Australia communications and public affairs director, Wes Sherwood, said Ford wants to win private customers at a retail level.
“Ranger is the best example of that working for us. If you look at where we are making gains on HiLux, it’s 4×4. We’re growing, and that’s the customer – higher-end family-use trucks,” he said.
Mr. Sherwood said the company was also focusing on sustainable fleet business:
“We’ve closed the gap significantly over the past five years to HiLux, but, again, our focus is on retail customers. No doubt we have fleet business, but we’re focusing on the more sustainable fleet business,” he said.
Speculation on Toyota maintaining runout pricing for the new HiLux was deflected by the president and CEO.
“Who knows where it will end up, but I’m feeling confident that what we’ve got to offer is a pretty good product offering, and we’ll live or die by that offering,” he said.
Ford currently sits almost 8000 units below last year’s tally, having sold 40,577 vehicles to the end of July.
Its 2014 performance – 79,703 vehicles, an 8.6 percent slide in a market down only 2 percent – would have looked substantially worse were it not for the performance of Ranger, and, to a lesser extent, Transit.
But don’t expect the Transit range to be expanded to include the Transit Connect, although a tight-lipped CEO response to questions of an automatic for Transit suggest it’s a distinct possibility.
“We’re already pretty complex, let’s say the market comes in 1.2 million, in that range in the future, it gets harder and harder with the segmentation, and there’s a balance to be had, 200-odd dealers training and carrying parts.
“It becomes a bit perilous, and diminishing returns kick in, I don’t see that part of the segment growing with the velocity that is needed, it’s a tough proposition where the volumes are so small,” he said.