While avoiding the question of whether Ford Australia would line up Toyota with “attack ads” in its advertising, Ford Australia boss Bob Graziano made it clear that it has Toyota in its gun-sights.
Ford will, according to Mr Graziano, offer “twenty new or refreshed vehicles in this market by 2020”.
And Ford is not being coy about which Toyota models it has in the gun: the HiLux with the Ranger, the Corolla with the updated Focus (with some engine surprises under the bonnet), and Camry with the new, and very impressive, Ford Mondeo.
The centrepiece to the new thrust by Ford in the Australian market is “transformational change” to the customer dealer-experience.
“We are elevating loyalty and customer experience as our number one priority,” Mr Graziano said.
The big ticket under this commitment - one that Ford dealers will love and will send shock waves through the independent repair network - is “capped price servicing for the life of the car”. Genuine Ford parts and transparent pricing are part of this commitment.
“For the life of the car” means just that, for life. Besides taking 'surprise' costs out of the ownership experience, this offer will potentially boost retained values when it comes time to trade-in.
The transformational change will also change the buying experience.
Customers will be greeted with concierge support, the SYNC 2 app will ‘talk through’ the car’s features when test driving, an app will follow and provide updates on vehicle-build and delivery times, and a digital handover app will ensure that the car arrives with the customer’s communication and entertainment preferences pre-loaded.
And every car in the new Ford range from 2015 will come with Auto Club membership, driver emergency assistance and inflatable rear seatbelts as standard fare.
These next five years will be, according to Asia Pacific Product Development VP, Trevor Worthington, “one of the biggest launch phases in the history of Ford in Australia and New Zealand”.
A new model assault
So what are Ford’s chances in a full-frontal assault on Toyota?
Well, ‘mano e mano’, model by model, and despite sitting fifth behind Toyota in a tight pack of followers, Ford has reason enough to feel bullish.
The Ranger has the measure of HiLux. It is a superior car on nearly every measure (we awarded the Ranger/BT-50 our Best Buy Award of 2011, and we absolutely stand by that assessment).
But there’s a new Hilux coming, and Toyota won’t have been sitting on its hands. Expectations of this new model are high.
That’s not to say the current HiLux is lacking - there is lot of sweat behind its market dominance and it has earned its place at the top of the pile as an honest, hardworking, near-unbreakable workmate.
The latter, the updated version of which arrives early 2015, will find a lot of favour for its arresting lines and premium-look coachwork.
And Ford has Everest coming in Q3 2015.
If there was any heavy-duty 4WD that might give the Prado a fright, this is the one. The Everest looks tough, it seats seven, it will have the Ranger’s off-road technology and ability, and offers the accommodation of a premium wagon.
Then there’s Mustang. (And, 5.0 litre V8 or 2.3 litre turbo EcoBoost, yes, it will be a market sensation.)
Toyota unassailable? Maybe not…
Significantly, as VFACTS sales reports have shown in recent years, Toyota has become vulnerable.
Where once it held a vice-grip on 20-to-21 percent market share here, that “one-in-five” of all cars sold in Australia for nearly 25 years, now Toyota’s share is at 18.2 percent YTD (18.8 last year).
And each month, it loses just a little more. The pack of hounds baying at its heels - Hyundai, Mazda, Holden and Ford - is creeping inexorably closer.
Percentage point, by percentage point, Toyota’s grip on the Australian market is slipping.
And, of that pack, Ford, on 7.3 percent YTD, arguably, has the strongest, most diverse and compelling model line-up.
According to Mr Worthington, “Ford is doubling its investment in product worldwide”. From where we sit, that investment is showing.
If it can get this ‘transformational change’ going, and get the word out to the market, you would have to think it’s “game on”.
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