COLOGNE - Ford expects its new Mondeo to lead the company's turnaround in Europe.
The Mondeo begins what European development chief Martin Leach calls a 'product-led recovery,' designed to make Ford's European operations more profitable.
'It really represents the car with which Ford of Europe can make some money,' said Karl Ludvigsen, chairman of Ludvigsen Associates Ltd., a London-based industry consultancy.
'Since Ford of Europe has given up Scorpio-Granada level, this is its largest luxury car,' he said. 'Ford has to do its best to eke out high profitability from Mondeo.'
According to Ford, the Mondeo is better-driving, safer, cheaper to insure and maintain, more comfortable, better equipped, and better looking than its predecessor.
The Mondeo begins a five-year product offensive designed to reverse Ford's declining European market share. Nick Scheele, Ford of Europe chairman, said the company will introduce 45 new or heavily revised products in the next five years.
All of them will be designed with Ford's new computerized product development tool, known as C3P. The Mondeo is the first car to be designed with the system. Ford managed to eliminate the middle prototype stage and thus reduced the Mondeo's development time by a full year.
All Ford's other new products will be designed using C3P. The system enables engineers around the world to work on virtual designs at the same time. In the past, Ford's slow product development time has been a key reason why it has lagged behind its European competitors in launching new models.
Those competitors have steadily reduced Ford's market share. Ford's market share in Europe has fallen from about 11.5 percent in 1995 to 9 percent in 1999. Last year, Ford made only $28 million earnings on sales of $30 billion in Europe. That compares with record $6.1 billion earnings on $100 billion revenues in North America.
Ford's factory in Genk, Belgium, has the capacity to build 350,000-400,000 Mondeos a year. Ford of Europe expects to sell about 290,000 Mondeos during 2001, its first full year of production. That's an increase over the 231,943 Mondeos Ford sold last year. But it is far short of the 380,083 units sold in 1984, the same year Mondeo was named European Car of the Year.
Ford spokesman Dave Reuter said: 'The C-D (upper-medium) segment has shrunk quite a bit due to enlargement of the C (lower-medium) segment and the introduction of alternative models such as multiple-activity vehicles.
'We have quite a bit of market to reassume,' he said. 'The 290,000 projection gets us back to where we were before our slide.'
The Mondeo also has to perform another job. It's a job its predecessor - and indeed Ford's entire lineup - has failed to carry out in the past. That is: conquer Europe's largest and most important market, Germany.
Ford officials will not say what rival vehicles they benchmarked with Mondeo, but the segment-leading VW Passat is the clear target.
To succeed in Germany, Mondeo must be distinguishable from Passat, yet not offend conservative German buyers.
Ford has employed its 'New Edge' styling in the new car. Mondeo comes standard with 16-inch wheels, an inch larger than those of its predecessor. Customers can also get 17- or 18-inch wheels. The wheels sit within the distinctive New Edge wheel arches the car shares with Focus.
The interior space is within millimeters of being as large as the old Scorpio, said Chris Bird, Ford's European design director.
Thomas Mawick, analyst for Marketing Systems in Essen, Germany, said: 'The old Mondeo was hard to identify among other competitors in the segment, especially the Japanese. The new one will certainly change this.'
Historically, Mondeo has suffered compared with Passat in another key area - perceived value, Mawick said.
'The typical German person who knows something about the car market regards the Mondeo as a car you can get for a very low price,' he said. 'That of course kept sales at quite a high level, but it has negative consequences for the value of the car. Ford is aiming not to repeat this again.'
Ford also aims to address another traditional shortcoming: engines. The new Duratec HE four-cylinder engine family is 'the largest-scale engine development program in Ford history,' Ford says.
The new gasoline four-cylinder Duratec HE engine comes with two displacement options. The 1.8-liter will be available with 110hp or 125hp, while the 2.0-liter produces 145hp. The 2.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 produces 170hp.
More critically, the Mondeo will get a common-rail diesel during the first quarter of next year. A Duratorq Direct Injection Diesel, which features a Bosch V44 pilot injection pump system, will be available immediately.
Ford also believes safety will differentiate the Mondeo from its competitors. The car's 'intelligent protection system' senses the severity of a crash and dictates the force with which the dual-stage airbags deploy. The car has front, side and side curtain airbags as standard. The pedals also collapse in the event of a collision, a feature designed to reduce leg injuries.
Georg Auer contributed