Ford Looks to Small Utility Vehicles for Global Growth

Ford Looks to Small Utility Vehicles for Global Growth

Through April, the Ford Escape was the top seller in its segment, but Ford sees an even greater opportunity with smaller vehicles on a much larger stage.

Initially built for Brazil, the Ford is preparing to push its Fiesta-based Ecosport (above) crossover into 62 countries by 2017 over the 10 it sold in last year. Ford’s move seems to be a logical one too with IHS Automotive data showing that global utility sales are up 35 percent since 2005 across the industry. More importantly, small utility sales rose 154 percent in the same time period.

“If we went back 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have this story,” Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said during a presentation to the media today. “It’s the fuel efficiency that’s been driving this trend in the markets outside the United States.”

But demand for utility vehicles worldwide is continuing to grow. For the first time, the Ford Explorer is being built outside the U.S. and will be sold in 27 countries by 2017.  The Edge will also expand from being offered in 16 countries last year to 40 by the same time.

“We’re taking this leadership position we have in North America,” Merkle said, “and spreading that to other areas of the globe.”

Perhaps the most important part of Ford’s strategy will be expanding its portfolio in China where roughly 125,000 small utility vehicles sold in 2005: a number that has since grown to 1.4 million.

“With the entire utility market expected to double there during the next five years, we have a distinct advantage offering customers in China an entire family of utility vehicles – small, medium and large,” Ford marketing executive Jim Farley said.

Relatively large vehicles remain the popular choice in North America, but compacts and sub-compacts are gathering traction as well. Automakers across every market segment are recognizing the appeal a small, fuel efficient vehicle holds with consumers. For Mercedes, that car is the CLA-class. For Ford it’s the Fiesta, which will be available in the Fiesta ST performance variant this fall.

While Ford hasn’t expressed plans to sell the Ecosport in North America, demand could eventually change that.