Special Coverage

Auto Show

GENEVA – Aid schemes by some European countries to buoy their auto makers and suppliers is disrupting the industry, Ford of Europe’s top executive says.

“We’re starting to see nationalism and protectionism,” Ford of Europe CEO John Fleming says during a pre-Geneva auto show introduction of the Ford Iosis Max concept car at the President Wilson Hotel here.

As with most other auto makers, Ford is acting prudently. Scheduled for the last press conference on the first media preview day, the auto maker, instead, decides to unveil the third concept car in its Iosis range at an offsite event and simply man its show stand during press days this week to talk about the cars there.

In addition to the Iosis Max, Ford has on display its Transit Connect electric-powered van, new-to-Europe Ranger pickup and the production version of the Focus RS, a hot turbocharged hatch that would have been worth more ink a few years ago.

While Ford is in the best financial health of the three Detroit auto makers, that position is not particularly enviable. Debt is high and cash is flowing out as sales stagnate.

“We need leadership from the European Union,” Fleming says. “Europe needs an industrial policy” that will help every auto maker evenly.

Ford of Europe is not badly placed for what market there is. Last year, the auto maker introduced its new small Fiesta, now the brand’s best-selling car, and the next-generation Ka. Small cars sell better than others thanks to government incentives in several countries that reward buyers of cars with better-than-average mileage.

However, government incentives in Germany, France, Italy and Spain help their respective domestic auto makers more than others, says Fleming, while admitting the scrappage incentive in Germany, offering €2,500 ($3,147) for turning in an old car and buying one with good fuel economy, “helps our end of the market.”

Unfortunately for Ford, the U.K., the auto maker’s best market, does not have any industry incentives in place.

Fleming says he would like Europe to put into place a common scrappage incentive, financing for dealers, insurance for suppliers and consumer credit “in an equal and fair way for all manufacturers.”

While he doesn’t name France, which has loaned €3 billion ($3.8 billion), each, to Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen, he clearly is thinking of that country and not the U.S., where the government has loaned billions to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

The concept Iosis Max follows others of that name in 2005 and 2006. The first one introduced what Ford calls kinetic design, and the 2006 Iosis X cross/utility vehicle paved the way for the Ford Kuga.

The Iosis Max is a design study loaded with cantilevers. The hood, doors and hatch all have fancy mechanisms that look good in a concept car but are too expensive for what is probably the design forerunner of the next C-Max.

The Iosis Max is a little smaller than the current C-Max, which may be a hint itself. The concept is powered by a 1.6L Ecoboost gasoline engine that will be introduced in Ford vehicles next year.

Ford in North America is developing large, 4-cyl. Ecoboost mills, and Fleming says after his presentation here the auto maker also is working on smaller engines in the 1.0L-1.2L range that could be 3-cyls.

The Ranger pickup, produced in Thailand, will arrive at European dealerships in April. Three body styles are offered: a simple 2-door; an extended cab, with opposing doors introduced in the Ranger in 2002; and a double cab with four doors.

Pickup beds are 90 ins. (229 cm) long for the regular cab, 68-ins. (173 cm) for the extended cab and 60 ins. (153 cm) for the double cab. Towing capacity is 6,614 lbs. (3,000 kg) with either the 2.5L or 3.0L Duratorq TDCi diesel, which Ford says is a segment best.

Although Ford is the perennial fullsize-truck champion in the U.S., it has been slow to export its expertise. Japanese pickups are the market leaders in Europe. European pickups are mainly high-end working vehicles that a construction crew boss would drive.