Ford unveils upscale S-Max concept with Vignale badge

Ford says the Vignale models will appeal to about 10 to 15 percent of buyers seeking higher levels of specification and customer service.
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MILAN -- Ford unveiled a concept here previewing an upscale Vignale variant of its S-Max large minivan.

The S-Max Vignale will be the second model in the trim line when it goes on sale in Europe in the second half of next year a few months after Ford launches a Vignale version of its Mondeo mid-sized sedan.

Ford and other mass-market brands are introducing upscale lines to help boost profits by persuading more customers to choose higher-margin models

Citroen sells upscale cars under the DS badge while Renault is expanding its Initiale Paris trim line. Ford unveiled the Vignale line at the Frankfurt auto show in September on a Mondeo concept. Like the Mondeo Vignale concept, the S-Max Vignale shows design details that will be exclusive to the trim line such as a distinctive hexagonal Vignale grille design and high quality leather Vignale-embossed seating with hexagonal quilting. It also has all of Ford's latest infotainment technologies and tablet device-docking stations for the second row seats.

Barb Samardzich, Ford of Europe's chief operating officer, said Vignale cars will be positioned above the automaker's current Titanium top trim level but will not become a subbrand.

About 10 to 15 percent of buyers want a higher level of specification and customer service than Ford currently offers, Ford says, and Vignale will fill the gap.

“We know that many customers are looking for a Ford that’s more exclusive and upscale than we currently offer in Europe,” said Roelant de Waard, Ford of Europe's head of sales and marketing. “The other key trend is the desire for a more memorable and personalized ownership experience that is tailored to individuals and respects their time. Vignale will meet these needs in a fresh way,” he said.

Vignale buyers will get services such as a dedicated relationship manager, as well as collection and delivery when their cars need to go to a workshop.

De Waard said customers see a high level of service as the key difference between premium and volume brands.

At the Milan Salone del Mobile, the world’s leading furniture design exhibition, Ford unveiled the Vignale lounge, a dedicated showroom space that about 500 of Ford’s 2,500 European dealers will need to have to sell Vignale models.

Ford expects Vignale variants to account for about 10 percent of the sales mix of the models sold with the trim level. The Vignale trim level will cost about 10 percent more than a Titanium model, said Ford of Europe marketing head Gaetano Thorel.

Ford executives declined to identify the third model to get a Vignale variant. Possibilities are the Kuga compact SUV or the Edge large SUV, which goes on sale in Europe in the second half of next year.

Samardzich said Ford would be willing to sell a Vignale version of the Fiesta subcompact “if the market asks for it.”

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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