Volume automakers aim to move upmarket in Europe as a way to boost profits in a domestic market set to decline for a sixth consecutive year. Ford's upscale strategy focuses on the Vignale premium trim line, which was unveiled last month at the Frankfurt auto show. Ford's European marketing head, Gaetano Thorel, shared details on Vignale's targets -- and limits -- with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri.
Why does Ford need Vignale?
In many segments where Ford competes we see a healthy mix of sales for high-series vehicles, but we do not have any entries in the upper 15 percent of the price band. This shows us there is a space for Vignale above our traditional lineup. In addition, we are seeing a significant change in consumer expectations as people look for a more individual relationship with brands while still expecting good value, great quality and high levels of technology.
Ford's high-performance ST-badged models are at the top of your European price range. Where will Vignale fit?
The Vignale trim line will be priced like an ST model but attract a completely different type of customer: someone looking for style, comfort and dedicated services. In Europe, entry-level models account for about 10 percent of Ford's sales, medium-trim models are 40 percent, high-trim Titanium models are 45 percent and ST models account for about 5 percent.
Will Vignale variants be offered on all of Ford's European products like you did in the past with the Ghia high-end trim line?
The Vignale line will be offered only on models and in segments that offer clear opportunities, beginning with the new Mondeo in early 2015.
Which Vignale variants will follow?
There is nothing written in stone yet, so we will concentrate on what we have already announced.
What percentage of Ford's European sales will come from Vignale?
About 10 percent of the models that include a Vignale-badged variant. Overall it will be about 5 percent of our sales.
How much more expensive will a Vignale model be?
About 10 percent more than a Titanium model.
What does the customer get for the extra money?
The Mondeo Vignale concept shows design details that will be exclusive to the line such as the unique chrome detailing, the exclusive leather-quilted seats and dashboard, a unique exterior color and all of Ford's latest infotainment technologies.
How many of Ford's 2,500 European dealers will offer Vignale models?
Probably about 500. They have to be in areas where it makes sense to invest in adding a Vignale lounge and dedicated people.
After the Vignale line debuts in western Europe will you expand it to Russia, Turkey or other markets?
At first it only will be in Ford's 19 core Europe markets. In Russia we have to establish the brand first.
Ford's premium brand in the United States, Lincoln, just launched a similar project called Black Label. Was there any cross fertilization?
Honestly, no. It was a coincidence that both programs were being developed at the same time.
Vignale customers will get a special "ownership experience." What does that mean?
We are still finalizing a number of things as the launch of the first Vignale model is 18 months away. In general, though, the Vignale customer experience is about providing help not only for product and service needs, but also assist with things such as booking a theater ticket or finding a near-by parking space.
The special ownership package includes free car washes for the life of the car. Why is this important?
This is in our plans. It is very likely the customer would not have to drive to the dealership as the car would be picked up, washed and returned to him. What is crucial is that the Vignale customer has a single contact at the dealership for any request on product or service. The customers will always talk with the same Vignale contact.
You can reach Luca Ciferri at firstname.lastname@example.org