Ford revamps key models in bid to halt European sales slide

AMSTERDAM, Sept 6 Thu Sep 6, 2012 9:54am EDT

AMSTERDAM, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co showed revamped versions of its key European models on Thursday, including a small sport-utility vehicle to challenge Nissan Motor Co's Juke , as it struggles to revive sales and curb mounting losses in the region.

Chief Executive Alan Mulally and other executives showed some 2,500 dealers a preview of several models, including its Kuga crossover and Ecosport compact SUV, which is due in Europe in the next 18 months and will compete with the Juke.

Ford also revealed plans to bring its medium-sized SUV, the Ford Edge, to Europe for the first time. The U.S. automaker aims to sell 1 million SUVs in Europe during the next six years.

"Over the past five years, the SUV segments are the only ones to have grown in Europe and it's forecast to continue," Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing chief, said.

Ford expects the small SUV segment in Europe will double in the next five years. Sales of medium-sized SUVs are expected to grow by one-third and Ford is targeting 10 percent market share.

Ford executives also showcased the updated Fiesta small car, a European mainstay, the new flagship Mondeo based on Ford's U.S. Fusion model and the new Transit commercial van.

Mulally also announced that Ford plans to bring the Mustang sports car to the European market.

The only major U.S. automaker to escape bankruptcy in 2009, Ford recovered strongly from that crisis but has since lost momentum, with Europe emerging as its Achilles heel.

Ford plants in the region are blighted by excess capacity as sales shrink faster than the troubled market, eroded by cut-throat competition from newcomers such as South Korea's Hyundai and affiliate Kia - as well as a shift in demand toward premium brands.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker posted a $404 million European operating loss in the second quarter and has said its full-year regional losses would top $1 billion, twice the previous forecast.

In his remarks, Mulally described the "One Ford" strategy that spurred the company's turnaround in the United States partly by connecting Ford's once-disparate business units and building vehicles off global platforms to cut costs.

Mulally said Ford will accelerate the implementation of this plan in Europe. In five years, Ford expects that 71 percent of its European lineup will be built off a global vehicle platform.

"The most important thing we can do is acknowledge the current reality and develop a plan to deal with it," he said.

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