Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits
Shock and horror!
Ford has surprised industry watchers by announcing it is to end the sale of its entire saloon car line in North America. Yes, you read that correctly. Before I tell the tale of a giant brought low I should add, all US car manufacturers are experiencing the cold wind of austerity. And what the US experiences Britain experiences in due course.
Ford will focus solely on trucks and SUVs – the only cars it will sell in the future are the Mustang sports car and the crossover-style Active version of the upcoming new Focus. Hard to believe. Back in the Sixties and Seventies the British market was dominated by a race for sales between Ford and Vauxhall, the choice of reps.
Business types discovered executive cars. These were sporty saloons with flair and status and luxury items such as leather. BMWs and Mercedes took off in large numbers. Their service standards were superior to Ford and Vauxhall, though their replacement parts were extortionately high in comparison. Company tax concessions could take care of that problem. Daily drivers didn’t feel they were sold a unit of metal, pleased to note staff at the dealership remembered their name when next in the service department.
The worrying aspect is the loss of low-cost mass market cars in a world where almost every other manufacturer has move well up market. Even the once cheap alternative Korean cars are adding luxury desirability – and cost.
All empires atrophy
Ford, the company that went on a global empire spree buying car brands and then resold them in a blind panic when the banks came a-calling, simply don’t make money in America, its biggest market. Ford has to please investors before customers. The news must have every non-German car maker shudder.
“We are committed to taking the appropriate actions to drive profitable growth and maximise the returns of our business over the long term,” said President and CEO Jim Hackett. “If appropriate returns are not on the horizon, we will shift that capital to where we can play and win”.
Ford has decided not to replace the Fiesta, the Fusion (Mondeo) and the Taurus in North America. They will wither and die without replacement.
By 2020, nine in ten new Fords will instead be trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles, “markets where Ford can win”. The writing is on the wall for the big car makers churning out too many cars.
To the crusher!
It is not yet clear what this means for future generations of the Ford Mondeo, derived from the US-spec Fusion (above), although it should be made clear that the Fiesta is safe: a new model has already been developed for Europe, but will not now be exported to America. The latest Ford Focus is also a project led by Europe, and will be a key Ford product in China, too.
What’s more, Ford insists it isn’t giving up on cars entirely, and is “exploring new ‘white space’ vehicle silhouettes that combine the best attributes of cars and SUVs, a remark that I interpret as more over-sized SUVs on our roads.
Meanwhile, don’t expect your battered old Ford Ka to rise in value as if a great classic.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
More classics MOT exempt
The Department for Transport (DfT) will make cars that were built more than 40 years ago exempt from MOT testing next month. Currently, only cars built before 1960 are exempt, representing 197,000 cars on UK roads. The new rules come into force on 20 May releasing a further 293,000 cars from MOTs. The thinking behind the decision is those cars are “usually maintained in good condition and used on few occasions”. The modern MOT applies less to cars of this age.
UK Car Market still falling
The UK experienced the fastest rate of decline in the European new car market in the first quarter of 2018. Figures provided by industry analysis company JATO show that Britain’s new car sales totalled 718,489, equating to a 12.4% fall on the first quarter of last year. The UK ranked bottom, below Norway and Ireland, which saw year-on-year sales decreases of 11.3% and 5.3% respectively. On the other hand new car sales increase by almost the same amount in Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Clarkson’s ‘Grand Tour’ drops ‘Mercan
Speaking at The Grand Tour’s launch event, abrasive executive producer, Andy Wilman revealed that the Stig-type star was dropped. Mike Skinner, also known as “The American”, didn’t capture audience’s imaginations. “We got a feeling that nobody was liking The American – the racing driver. So he’s got his P45 and we’ve got another driver.
Asleep but not at the wheel
A “grossly irresponsible” motorist was caught sitting in the passenger seat of his Tesla electric car as it drove at 40mph on autopilot. Bhavesh Patel, 39, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving after he was filmed pulling off the stunt on the M1 near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. Patel, who has been banned for 18 months, activated his Tesla S 60’s autopilot function before changing seats leaving the steering wheel and foot pedals with no driver in charge. Patel was banned for 18 months, given 100 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to carry out 10 days of rehabilitation and pay £1,800 in costs.