Amongst a sea of red ink gushing from the sales offices of virtually every car importer in Australia after a torrid 2019, a few stories stand out more than others.
The slow and painful demise of Holden, for example, is well documented, while even industry stalwarts like Toyota are fearful of the prevailing winds of soft demand and a sketchy economic outlook going forward for everyday Aussies.
On the surface, Ford Australia seems to be in line with most of its competitors, currently sitting within the top five brands on sale today thanks to a solid performance in 2019 that skirted the double-digit percentage sales dips that plagued the industry last year.
Scratch the surface, though, and things aren’t quite as rosy as they first appear.
Move over Mondeo
When the Falcon production line fell silent in 2016, many analysts predicted that the medium-sized Mondeo will be thrust forward to fill the hole left by the large sedan. It hasn’t worked out like that, though.
Like the Focus, the European-designed and conceived Mondeo was relatively late to the Aussie party when it arrived in 2007, and while it’s fared better than the various attempts by across-town rivals Holden in the space – Epica and Malibu, anyone? – it’s never sold in sizable volumes.
In the two and a bit years since the Falcon was axed, for example, Ford sold about 5600 Mondeos, compared to near-enough 130,000 Rangers. Even the Mustang has outsold it three-to-one in the same period.
Sales in 2019 fell to just 646 cars, with a mere 27 finding homes in December last year. So it’s no surprise, then, that the Mondeo will be cut to a single model – the entry-level Ambiente – in both wagon and hatch bodyshapes, before it’s deleted from the Ford Australia range later this year.
Will it be missed? Sales data suggests not, but it’s another nameplate that Ford will lose from its overall roster.
While dual-cabs have displaced the humble hatchback in the sales race, the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla still managed 55,000 sales between them. The similarly sized Ford Focus managed just 3600-odd sales all year, and it was even beaten by Holden’s now-discontinued Astra (4188).
The small hatchback market was once dominated by Ford’s Laser, but the impetus has shifted in the last decade. Why can’t the Focus match the performance of, say, the Hyundai i30? Having 28,000-odd extra cars in the market instead of 3600 would really help the cause.
Another slow seller in the Ford line-up, the diminutive EcoSport SUV, is also scheduled for the chop, which will bring the number of active Ford nameplates (counting the soon-to-return Fiesta ST) down to eight.
"The EcoSport will continue to be available in all three variants – entry level Ambiente, Trend and range-topping Titanium – for the next few months, after which it will no longer be part of our Australian line-up," confirmed Matt Moran, Ford's communication director for Australia and New Zealand.
"We are constantly looking for new opportunities for Australia from our global portfolio, and will share our plans in due course."
The Indian-built EcoSport has been a bit of a damp squib for Ford since its introduction in 2013, and it managed to sell just 481 for the entirety of 2019, in one of the hottest segments in the market.
It’s a long-held trope in the motoring world that a new sports car sells its head off for the first 12 months of its life before falling off a sales cliff thereafter. The Ford Mustang, however, blew that notion to bits.
Almost 23,000 have been sold since its launch in 2016, with almost 10,000 selling in 2018 alone. However, the sales tally of 3948 in 2019, while decent, points to the inevitable – everyone who wanted a sports coupe has pretty much bought one.
The Mustang will continue to sell reasonably well – it’s a pretty damn handy car – but it’s another figure on a spreadsheet that will shrink, not expand, for the brand.
Home on the Ranger
The Ranger currently makes up almost 60 per cent of Ford’s entire sales inventory, and while that’s a blessing in many ways, it leaves the company painfully exposed to any potential downturn in Ranger sales.
While Aussie buyers are obviously still enamoured by the dual-cab, the winds of fashion are fickle, while a downturn in the wider economy also means fewer commercial customers.
A worldwide hit for the company, Ford Australia has played a big part in the T6 Ranger’s success… but having that many eggs in one commercial vehicle-shaped basket must be a concern.
Nowhere else shows where Ford is so dangerously exposed, though, more than the still red-hot SUV segment.
The large Endura and mid-sized Escape combined can’t outsell the large Ranger-based Everest month to month – and the Everest is a marginal seller at best, being outsold by the Ranger at a rate of almost seven to one.
A strong performer to go up against the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 would give the company a fallback position, should the bottom ever drop out of dual-cab demand.
The current Mustang will come to the end of its natural life in 2021, replaced by a car built on a new platform that will allow Ford to potentially build all-wheel-drive derivatives of the pony car (the Clydesdale?).
A much-publicised outing of the Mach E electric SUV (above) points to the potential for a Mustang-based SUV, but if it happens, it won’t arrive locally until 2023 at the very earliest… and it won’t be designed to take on the mainstays of the SUV game, which is where the sales volume is.
What will help in that arena, though, will be the 2020 arrival of the all-new Escape SUV, which will be bigger, stiffer and better looking than the current car - and it will also offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain to take the fight right up to the RAV4's garage door.
The Fiesta small car will return this year, but only in a high-performance version (which, incidentally, is running a bit late) while the future for cars like the dated and spec-limited Endura are still in a watch-and-act state.
And while Ford has launched a potential replacement for the EcoSport in Europe called the Puma, the Fiesta-based compact SUV is an unlikely stater for Australia. Sourcing it from its Romanian factory in the current economic climate would simply make it too expensive.
Do you reckon Ford is right to back itself with a Ranger-heavy future vision? Let us know in the comments below!
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