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Ford boss bullish about its future in NZ

 

Ford New Zealand boss Richard Matheson hasn’t been listening to the doom and gloom industry observers who reckon international problems for the Blue Oval are far from over.

The American managing director of one of Ford’s smallest far-flung outposts is probably right in accentuating the positives, rather than the negatives, because the immediate outlook isn’t looking too bad. Not surprisingly, at a meeting highlighting prospects for 2008, Matheson made no mention of Ford’s decline of almost 14 per cent in local new car sales last year.

Indeed, though Ford lost more ground than any other brand in the top 10, Matheson clearly doesn’t believe 2007 was a year to forget. Fiesta sales rose 30 per cent on 2006, the Focus was NZ’s second best-selling small car with 14 per cent growth, and Ranger sales rose one-third to allow Ford to recapture second position in the ute segment. Of course, the Ford’s big news is the mid-year arrival of the FG Falcon, yet its launching will be tempered by the falling big-car market.

Matheson says New Zealand has the most open market in the world, and one that has changed drastically in the last five years. The large car class has gone from 25 per cent of the market to 11 per cent while the large SUV segment grew in 2007 and shows no signs of dropping off. Matheson is confident big car sales have stabilised at a level that they should maintan. He’ll need to be right with the FG just around the corner. He says New Zealanders are outdoor people who want vehicles to suit their lifestyles.

Though fuel prices have never been higher, Falcon XR6 have been strong this year, even in the closing stages of the BF’s life. Ford expects to run out of BFs before the FG arrives, but it’s clear Ford has no intention of being a one-model brand. The Focus is doing well in the used car market with residuals “higher than they should be” against the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The European Ford is due for freshening in June, and Matheson admits the second generation Focus in 2003 was “a little conservative.” Ford’s changing its small car’s name has left customers slightly bemused. It went from Escort, to Laser, then Escort, Laser and Focus. Market confusion reigns over the Focus, and whether it slots into the 1.6-litre class or is more a 2.0-litre contender.

“People take engine displacement as size, but the 1.6-litre engine will help Ford reposition Focus as a ‘compact’ car,” Matheson says. The 1.8-litre turbo diesel will stay in the Focus range, and the marque is buoyed by fleet demand for diesel cars. No decision has been reached on bringing the next generation Ka to New Zealand. “We’re building a reputation through used cars,” says Matheson. “We don’t have used imports, and the kids are into used Focus models.” He says he’ll be happy with leadership in the private new car market and is bullish about the fact that there are waiting lists for the new Mondeo.  “Everything we’ve done to improve (residual values) has paid off.”

Petrol Mondeo shave been capturing more than 21 per cent of the medium class and dealers are ordering heavily for the diesel Mondeo. Matheson says Ford NZ will struggle to keep up with demand for its European products. There won’t be a lack of buyers, more a problem getting enough cars. Matheson says despite the motor industry’s strong start to 2008, total sales will probably be down slightly on 2007; but he’s predicting two per cent growth in 2009. It’s been a tough time for car makers building big cars in Australia. Ford and Holden, along with Toyota and Mitsubishi, have seen the market slashed for large models. Big cars ride a knife-edge in the market. If Ford NZ can maintain current Falcon volume with the arrival of FG it’ll be doing well.

2008 Ford fast facts

Of the 32 Ford dealerships in New Zealand, 31 have improved facilities and the John Andrew flagship in Auckland is set for a major eight-figure renovation upgrade.

Seven of the nine Ford models will be either facelifted or changed between October 2007 and March 2009.

Biggest news will be reserved for the biggest car. However, enthusiasm for the new Falcon is tempered by the car’s styling similarity with the BA series that replaced the unloved AU eight years ago.

The grille shape that looks to be lifted straight from the Mondeo is a deliberate part of the “kinetic design” thinking from Ford of Europe.

Retaining heritage features were always parts of the styling plan, and the look of the 2008 FG is based on research into what customers wanted.

New Zealand wasn’t in on the ground floor when the first Aussie Falcon went on sale 47 years ago. We soldiered on with the British sourced Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac for a few years before building the Falcon locally in the mid-sixties.

Ford isn’t saying the FG is the last Australian-sourced Falcon. However, it will stick with the Falcon name, even if the FG is the last big Australian Ford and its successor is built in America.

Ford’s Falcon is the longest-running Australian car model. Even though the FG looks a lot like its predecessor, 90 per cent of the car is new. A sign of the times is the lower Australian content level, now running at 60 per cent because down under suppliers were unable to meet parts specifications.

Even though 2007 was the start of a run-out period, Ford’s Falcon sales in Australia were the worst since the model began in 1960.

Executives in the Melbourne head office will be hoping the FG woos buyers who have been snubbing big cars for SUVs.


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