* Mondeo Vignale to debut in Europe early 2015
* May offer owners free car wash service
* Plans eventual launch of multiple models
By Christiaan Hetzner
FRANKFURT, Sept 4 Ford has drawn on the
latest European design trends with its new luxury concept car,
tempting the driver with a quilted cream-coloured Nappa leather
interior to complement its chrome and mocha-hued bodywork.
The Vignale, which makes its first public appearance at the
Frankfurt auto show next week and launches in Europe early in
2015, is the latest attempt by a mass-market carmaker to woo
affluent customers more interested in a lifestyle than a
Looks can be deceptive, though. While suggestive of an
expensive Italian marque, the Vignale is little more than a
pimped-up version of the four-cylinder Ford Mondeo still
favoured by many a mid-level manager or sales rep.
Ford is targeting the market for mid-size aspirational
models such as the BMW 3 series, Audi A4
and Mercedes C-Class.
"This prevents defection of Ford customers who believe they
need to go somewhere else as they progress in their careers and
make more money," Ford's European sales chief Roelant de Waard
says of the new premium line.
The concept, which does not sport the Mondeo badge anywhere
on the car, is due to be rolled out across multiple vehicles as
a new sub-brand akin to Ford's sporty ST nameplate.
The company remains tightlipped about the Vignale's price
tag, but de Waard said it would offer a suitable product at a
lower price for customers who find the premium German
manufacturers too expensive.
This would suggest a price tag in Germany higher than the
29,450 euros ($38,700) for a Mondeo Titanium, but less than the
33,230 euro Mercedes C-Class.
Ford is by no means the first volume carmaker to take
advantage of the increasingly blurred boundaries between premium
and mass-market brands now that quality and reliability are no
longer exclusive to BMW and Mercedes.
"The potential for differentiation through a
product's features has largely been exhausted - models and
brands are increasingly homogenous and hence perceived as
interchangeable," consultancy firm Arthur D. Little concluded in
a study published last week.
France's PSA Peugeot Citroen, for example, is
achieving some success by using the pedigree of its DS model,
known as the "Goddess", to redefine a new range of premium
ADAC, Europe's largest automobile club, said that responses
from its annual customer satisfaction survey support Ford's
strategy, since the DS line seems to have had a positive impact
on the image of the PSA group in the eyes of German car owners.
"Data show that the much more expensive DS3 is often bought
because of its design and sportiness, while the most cited
reason for purchasing the Citroen C3 is its price tag," said Jan
Schreier, project leader for the ADAC survey to be published
Fiat, meanwhile, used the success of its 500
subcompact to spawn a range of Cinquecento variants priced above
the core range and now Renault plans to create an
"Initiale Paris" line of higher-end cars.
FREE CAR WASHING
However, Ford knows that car buyers already well acquainted
with luxury and status will not buy a Mondeo simply because it
has more expensive leather trim and chrome mouldings.
With this in mind it has also designed a line of Vignale
accessories, such as weekend bags, and plans to offer
complementary car washes for the life of the vehicle.
Before developing the Vignale, Ford had considered launching
its upscale Lincoln badge in Europe. It concluded, however, that
the brand lacked the right products, powertrains and prestige to
prevail in the crowded market.
"It was better and easier to extend the Ford brand, which
already demonstrates upside potential," de Waard said, pointing
out that more than half of its sales of larger models are
equipped with the highest levels of options and features.
The decision to rule out the Lincoln brand left Ford with
The U.S. carmaker scrapped its Mercury badge and shed a
stable of European luxury brands consisting of Jaguar,
Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin between 2007 and
2010. The strategy was instrumental in saving it from an
image-damaging taxpayer bailout - a fate that befell Detroit
rivals General Motors and Chrysler.
The need to explore its options for tapping luxury demand
has also been driven by upmarket rivals squeezing the volume
brands with their own moves in the opposite direction, such as
Audi's invasion of the subcompact market.
Ford's Mondeo makeover now aims to emulate BMW's 2001
transformation of the cheap and cheerful Mini into a premium
De Waard argues that Ford's strong customer base among
company car drivers gives the Vignale a good head start despite
the overall malaise in Europe's car markets, but he concedes
"it's a big bet".