IT'S GREAT to see the excitement, the ambition and the talent that is re-energizing Ford these days - particularly in Europe. Once again, Ford has become a company for whom people want to work, and a company that's buzzing with new ideas and confidence.
The company's portfolio of brands is unmatched in the auto industry. Without apparently breaking into sweat, Jac Nasser has assembled a stunning lineup of names that not only covers the current market, but also offers enormous potential for the future. The potential addition of Daewoo as Ford's Skoda completes the picture.
But there's a problem at the heart of the company in Europe. Ford's market share across the region has fallen from 11.5 percent in 1995 to 9 percent last year. It's clear that, in many European markets, the core Ford brand is simply not strong enough.
Ford is more exposed than any other manufacturer to the rapid erosion of mid-market brands. In the crucial upper-medium segment, European buyers no longer want a Mondeo - or, indeed, a Vectra. They want either a reliable bargain, or a car with an upmarket badge on the back. So the Mondeo's diminishing share is under attack from Daewoos, Seats and Hyundais underneath, and also - at the other end of the segment - from BMWs, Audis and Volvos.
In the future, this trend will also hit Ford in the lower-medium segment as the luxury brands attack from above. Ford has already pulled out of the mid-sized executive segment because its Scorpio could not compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.
In themselves, these factors are worrying enough for Ford. But Ford may be even more vulnerable than rival mid-market brands. It's the only one without a strong national identity in Europe. Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and Fiat still have dominant domestic positions, and use their French or Italian attributes to add sparkle to their brands at home and abroad. Likewise, Opel has realized it has to accentuate its German qualities to thrive.
The irony is that Ford's brand portfolio is now the envy of most other automakers. But in the middle of such brand gems as Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover is mid-market, non-aspirational Ford. Indeed, the core Ford product range is under assault from sister brands such as Volvo, Land Rover and, if it is acquired, Daewoo.
At next month's Paris auto show, Ford will unveil the new Mondeo. By all reports it's bigger, more luxurious and better to drive than its predecessor. It'll need to be all these things and many more if it is to start recapturing share in such an aggressively competitive European market.