BANGKOK –is counting on two key products in its ambitious Southeast Asia growth plan, the EcoSport and the facelifted Fiesta, both highlighted on the auto maker’s stand at the Bangkok International Motor Show last week.
Making his first visit to the exhibition wasPresident and CEO Alan Mulally, signaling the increasing importance the Association of Southeast Asian Nations trade territory is playing in the auto maker’s global sales strategy and how it is developing competitive new products for the region’s fastest-growing segments.
“The ASEAN region is a very important growth opportunity for Ford,” Mulally says. “In developing markets like those in ASEAN, small cars are a crucial part of any auto maker's current and future growth plan. In fact, by the end of the decade, 64% of vehicles sold globally will be in the small-car segment.”
Ford ASEAN President Matt Bradley says the market he oversees is growing faster than any other worldwide.
“To be part of this extraordinary growth for our industry is really special,” he says. “And we have the right ‘One Ford’ plan to participate in this growth. Certainly we are committed to further grow our customer reach across ASEAN.”
Ford is looking to build on the impact of its most successful model in the regional market in recent years, the Fiesta, which is battling it out in the toughest car segment and traditional preserve of the Japanese brands.
The Fiesta has underpinned Ford's recent record sales here – “a remarkable success story,” Bradley says.
More than 90,000 current-generation Fiestas have been sold since launch, and the model has been Ford’s top seller in every ASEAN market. In Thailand, the Fiesta has carved out a 10% slice of the B-segment.
“Quite simply, this car has helped to redefine what the Ford brand represents here in ASEAN,” Bradley says, adding the model has “raised the bar in the compact car segment.”
With the Fiesta and new Ranger pickup, Ford's ASEAN sales jumped more than 25% to 87,000 units last year, contributing to the auto maker’s total tally of 1 million vehicles throughout Asia.
“This growth has helped (Ford) to more than double (its) market share in ASEAN since 2010,” Bradley says. “We are absolutely confident that our ongoing product led strategy will continue to drive our overall share even higher.”
Thailand accounts for the bulk of Ford’s ASEAN growth; with deliveries soaring 88% to 54,865 units in 2012. That was underpinned by the market reception for the Fiesta, which Ford managed to pitch toward the premium end of the B-segment, maximizing margins.
Introducing new technologies and efficiencies to the B-segment has been a key part of the Fiesta’s success, Mulally says.
To that end, Ford is introducing its EcoBoost engine technology to the ASEAN market for the first time with the revamped model. The car will offer the 1L 3-cyl. version of Ford’s turbocharged engine family.
“We expect the new Fiesta to continue the tradition started with today's Fiesta,” the CEO says.
The EcoSport will arrive in the fourth quarter and potentially boost Ford’s position in the B-segment. However, to do that it will have to carve out a new niche, with other auto makers watching its market reception closely.
"(It) takes us into a whole new segment, the compact, urban SUV," Bradley says of the EcoSport.
Developed in Brazil, EcoSport has racked up 70,000 sales in South America since its introduction in 2003.
For this market, the EcoSport will be built at the new $450 million Ford Thailand Mfg. plant in Rayong, which has been making the new Focus since mid-2012. About 24,000 units of the Focus have been produced so far, one-third for domestic consumption.
Bradley tells WardsAuto Ford's internal research suggests the EcoSport will be a huge hit in the ASEAN region, “and with the growing importance of these markets, (it will be) a significant contributor to broader growth across the Asia-Pacific region and around the globe."
The auto maker isn’t pinpointing its volume expectations, but it broadly is looking to replicate the Fiesta story with the EcoSport.
“When you have a fully competitive product, 10% of the segment is a nice metric to go after for any of our models,” Bradley tells WardsAuto. “But this vehicle is opening up a whole new segment for us. It’s tough to gauge, but clearly we would like to attain segment share levels here that it's attaining around the world.”
The EcoSport will come to the ASEAN region in one trim package with 2-wheel drive, a 1.5L gasoline engine and automatic transmission.
One quirk will be the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, which means that the rear door is side-hinged. Ford believes this maximizes interior load space, but it is unclear how the market will react to the design, which stems from the vehicle’s Latin American birth.
Bradley sees the EcoSport as an aspirational vehicle for Fiesta owners.
“I think there will be a logical progression for customers in (the) B-segment to move from cars to SUVs to increase their versatility, so I think the whole segment will see a shift as this vehicle redefines that piece of the segment that isn't there today.”