NICK GIBBS

Ford Ka faces uncertain future

Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.
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The future of the Ford Ka appears uncertain after a senior marketing executive said that the minicar has been left out of a new, brandwide advertising campaign.

"For quite a long time we have not produced new advertising" for the Ka, Elena Cortesi, Ford of Europe's director of social media, told Automotive News Europe. "It is considered a stand-alone vehicle."

Stand-alone might be a nice way of saying "forgotten" as the Ka's sales continue to shrink. The minicar's European volume fell by 20 percent last year to 59,112. Sales through April are down 27 percent to 18,824 units, according to the most current figures from market researchers at JATO Dynamics.

Launched in 2008 as a replacement for the successful first-generation model, the Ka is based on the Fiat 500. Both cars are built in at Fiat's factory in Tychy, Poland. The Ka, however, doesn't command the premium prices that the similarly sized, retro-styled Fiat gets. In Germany, for example, the Ka starts at 7,990 euros ($10,500), compared with an entry price of 11,600 euros for the 500.

'No profit'

As a result the Ka "produces absolutely no profit," Ford of Europe design head Martin Smith told British magazine Autocar

The problem he said was that the Ka doesn't fit into the company's global One Ford strategy.

"It won't pass a U.S. crash test, it was designed too narrowly to suit European tastes and it's only built in one place," he told the magazine. Smith said he "couldn't see much life for it" past a mid-cycle refresh.

A Ford spokesperson, however, told us a face-lift wasn't imminently planned. "The outgoing Ka was treated in the same way – there was no face-lift as such as sales remained good over its 12-year tenure."

Fiat partnership

Fiat is keen to continue its Ford partnership, which helps the Italian automaker fill capacity in Tychy, but Ford will need to get a minicar with a much wider geographical appeal.

Sources say Fiat plans to concentrate production of a global-ready next-generation 500 in Poland starting in 2015. This could have an effect on Ford's next move in the minicar segment.

European sales of the Ford Ka fell by 20 percent last year and are down 27 percent through April.

Other potential solutions include quitting the minicar segment or forming a new partnership to jointly produce the entry-level car in a country with even cheaper labor.

Cortesi pointed out that sales of the Ka are still "healthy." If so, then Ford needs to do for the Ka what it needs to do for its entire European operations, start making a profit.

You can reach Nick Gibbs at nick.gibbs@btinternet.com.

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