Ford is leading a major global shift to fuel-efficient and functional utility vehicles, growing its sales in the last five years faster than any other Ford vehicle segment and faster than the industry average.
“This was a major bet we made with the One Ford plan, and it is paying off,” said Jim Farley, executive vice president, global marketing, sales and service and Lincoln. “Utilities are helping us grow our share in the North American market – particularly in the traditionally difficult coastal markets – and they’re driving our expansion in developing markets, where utility growth is exploding.”
The One Ford plan has delivered a global family of utilities, including EcoSport, Escape/Kuga, Edge and Explorer, which will fuel the company’s growth during the next few years.
In the United States, Ford is the best-selling utility brand. Nowhere is the U.S. impact more evident than in California, where Explorer retail sales are up 43 percent and Escape retail sales are up 51 percent through April of this year. A Ford analysis of Polk retail registrations indicates the company’s two newest utilities have helped to increase its share by 6 percentage points in California – the biggest retail sales growth since 2006 of any non-premium brand in the critical state.
The trend is even more promising globally, where industry sales are expected to surge during the next five years, according to data from IHS Automotive. With the recent global launches of EcoSport, Escape/Kuga, Edge and Explorer, Ford is expected to see sales of its utility vehicles grow in every market around the world.
Small utilities to lead globally
Data provided by IHS Automotive indicate global utility vehicle sales grew 35 percent between 2007 and 2012. The segment now accounts for more than 13 million sales annually – 18 percent of the global automotive market.
Small utilities are leading the growth, with sales up 154 percent in that period.
In 2012, small utilities accounted for just more than 7 million vehicles, approximately 9 percent of total global vehicle sales. The subcompact EcoSport and the larger compact Escape – or Kuga in markets outside North America – represent Ford’s small utility vehicle offerings.
Further utility vehicle growth is expected in the coming years, driven mainly by the small utility segment, which is the fastest-growing segment and is projected to increase by 51 percent.
Ford small utility sales are projected to outpace the overall industry, according to IHS Automotive. The increase will be driven largely by introduction of EcoSport into key markets, including India, China and Europe, and the launch of Kuga in the fast-growing China market.
“Nothing has been more prolific than the global rise of the small utility,” said Farley. “Once a trend in Western markets, we now see a rapid convergence toward the segment globally as customers become enamored by vehicles offering the size and functionality of a utility coupled with car-like dynamics and fuel economy.”
In China, small utility sales climbed to more than 1.4 million vehicles last year, up from about 120,000 units sold in 2005, according to IHS Automotive. Ford’s launch of the EcoSport compact SUV there this year will round out a portfolio that includes Edge, Explorer and Kuga, which has seen sales of more than 20,000 units since going on sale in February.
“There is little doubt the biggest opportunity for the industry is China,” said Farley. “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.”
In Europe, the utility segment is the only segment that has grown since 2005. Ford increased Kuga production 8 percent this year to meet demand, as Europe expects to produce 100,000 annual units of the small utility for the first time. Kuga will be joined later this year by the new EcoSport, with the larger Edge to follow. Ford recently announced production of the iconic Explorer in Russia, marking the first time the utility has been produced outside the United States.
Leading the way for Ford in North America is Escape, the best-selling utility in the United States and the top-selling utility in its segment in Canada for nine consecutive years. Customers in North America have responded to Escape’s improved fuel economy, sleek new design, enhanced cargo capacity and innovative technology like its hands-free liftgate.
Small utility growth has been fueled in part by an aging global population increasingly becoming empty-nesters. Small utilities also are steadily growing in popularity thanks to improved fuel economy coupled with a greater sense of security behind the wheel and increased capability with available all-wheel-drive systems and more cargo capacity.
With improvements in engine technology, Ford’s utility vehicles also have become even more fuel efficient. Ford’s EcoBoost® engines can help provide up to 20 percent better fuel economy without sacrificing the power that drivers want. The new Escape features two EcoBoost engines – a 1.6-liter and a 2.0-liter that make up about 90 percent of sales volume.
Consumers also find utilities offer greater flexibility than most passenger cars, with the potential for myriad opportunities and tasks – from road trip vacations to hauling packages home from a store.