Ford looks to Europe for new U.S. products
CEO Mulally eyes Mondeo, S-Max, Transit
"The probability is very high" that Ford will tap its global product bank for U.S. consumers in the near term, CEO Alan Mulally told Automotive News late last week.
He spoke after Ford announced a $12.7 billion loss for 2006, the worst financial results in its 103-year history. Dragging down those results was a dismal performance in North America, where Ford reported a 2006 automotive operating loss of $6.1 billion before taxes and charges.
By contrast, Ford made $469 million last year in Europe, where its product portfolio is garnering accolades.
To restore the beleaguered automaker to profitability, Mulally wants to create a lineup of cars and trucks that can be sold in multiple regions. Since arriving from Boeing last September, Mulally has criticized Ford's disjointed product development, which prevents it from selling the same vehicles in Europe and America.Quick boost
The S-Max crossover, Mondeo sedan and Transit, a boxy commercial van, are European products that could be sold in the United States, Mulally said last week.
The Transit family could give Ford's North American operation an immediate shot in the arm. The Transit Connect is expected to go on sale in the United States as soon as the second half of this year.
The Transit Connect, a commercial van smaller than the regular Transit, comes in short- and long- wheelbase versions that are 168.4 and 178.1 inches -- making the smaller version roughly the length of a Chrysler PT Cruiser.
European base prices range from $19,215 to $27,483. Ford sold 102,600 commercial Transits in 2006.
"What a neat vehicle for commerce in the United States," Mulally said of the Transit. "We need a small utility, a really high-utilization vehicle."
The vehicle would be aimed at small item delivery, such as flowers, and tradespersons who don't carry bulky equipment.
Mulally didn't confirm Ford's plans for the Transit Connect. But Ford has shown the vehicle to some U.S. dealers and analysts, telling them it would be sold here soon.
The van, which sells in Europe with a 1.8-liter diesel engine, likely would be imported from Ford's assembly plant in Turkey. Some analysts say Ford could begin North American production of the Transit Connect in 2010. Ford won't confirm that plan.
Another strong candidate for import would be the S-Max, a crossover based on the mid-sized car platform that underpins the next-generation Mondeo. It was named the European Car of the Year for 2007. Ford is working on a plan to bring the S-Max to the United States, sources said.
The mid-sized Mondeo sedan is a trickier proposition. In Europe, Ford will begin selling the next-generation Mondeo this spring. But it overlaps in size with the relatively new U.S.-market Fusion sedan and is more expensive.
Also, Ford's track record in bringing the Mondeo to the U.S. market is bumpy. The Mondeo-derived Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique sold poorly in America in the mid-1990s, hurt by a combination of high price and tight interior space compared to competitors.
The Fusion and Mondeo are built on separate platforms. Ford executives have signaled that the vehicles eventually will share a common global platform but probably not until early next decade.
"Anything we design new will be looked at that way," Mulally said. "You get a chance to think that out initially the first time. And the more you think about more global applications, then the more you're going to get out of it."
It's unlikely Ford will sell the Mondeo in the United States before the platforms converge, some analysts say.
But Mulally will be the ultimate arbiter, and the redesigned Mondeo caught his eye in a recent film appearance. "When I went to see the James Bond movie and I saw that Mondeo, I wanted it," Mulally said.
If Mulally does bring the Mondeo to the United States, Ford will have to find a special place for it, perhaps as a premium entry above the Fusion or for Mercury, said Jim Hall, a vice president in the Southfield, Mich., office of the consulting company AutoPacific.
Mulally said he hasn't completed plans to import the European vehicles. "But those are all under consideration," he said. "They just all make sense."
Jens Dralle contributed to this report
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