Ford faces tough decision on B-Max

B-Max sales were down 15% in Europe last year. Even more troubling is that the entire small minivan segment fell 11%.

When Ford of Europe President Jim Farley says that the automaker must be even more selective on the segments where it competes, it makes me think that the B-Max’s days are numbered, which means changes loom at the under-utilized plant in Romania where the small minivan is built.

B-Max sales were down 15 percent to 45,717 units in Europe last year. Even more troubling is that the entire small minivan segment fell 11 percent to 305,506, according to data from JATO Dynamics. Renault, which started the minivan segment in Europe, killed its slow-selling Modus when it saw no future for subcompact-sized people movers.

Ford’s factory in Craiova, Romania, has had repeated work stoppages because of the dwindling desire for models such as the B-Max. When Automotive News Europe asked Farley about Craiova he said: “We make the B-Max there, and the minivan business has really deteriorated in terms of the customers buying those types of vehicles.”

Farley called Romania is a “real opportunity” for Ford, but he wouldn’t hint at what’s planned, only saying, “We’re always looking at our footprint and our opportunities.”

Last week Ford said that to boost its annual operating profit in Europe to between 6 percent and 8 percent from less than 1 percent last year it will take further steps to improved capacity utilization. Craiova has to be high on the priority list.

Ford has been the most aggressive automaker in Europe at right-sizing its production footprint. During the Great Recession it closed three factories to address overcapacity. It won’t be long before we see Ford act again.

You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@crain.com -- Follow Douglas A. on Twitter: BolducANE2014

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