Ford recently invited members of the news media to take a look at its factory in Silverton, near Pretoria. There, they showed reporters the upgraded line that would produce the new Ford Ranger and the new Volkswagen Amarok, which would use the same platform.
This lowered production of the Everest, a version of the Ranger agricultural SUV, possibly due to poor sales (although Ford said its SA sales operation was unable to secure supply because it wasn’t a priority market). As a result, while Ranger brought the fight to Hilux well and right, Everest, despite its nomenclature, never really got off the foothills, and was very much in the Fortuner’s shadow.
This line upgrade is great news for Pretoria and its automotive workforce, and Ford’s plans to make light trucks for the African and other markets incorporate the option to expand production to hybrid and electric drivetrains in the future, which is good for the longevity of the future. technical sense, but, like other local producers, is based on the expectation that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Competition engages with industry in the necessary changes to the regulatory space to allow such manufacture. We’ll have to see — rumors are circulating that something is up.
Ford needs to do well in South Africa with the Ranger. Toyota, which occupies the number one slot for month-on-month vehicle sales with the Hilux, will be grateful that Ford’s upgrade coincides with the Japanese company’s Durban plant shutting down for weeks following severe flooding there. A new Ranger, especially a good looking truck like that, would offer a real threat to that leadership.
Ford will need it to do well, as the blue oval is otherwise in what looks like a disorganized and unplanned retreat from South Africa. With the collapse of Ford’s operations in India, where local operations have no control, popular local Ford models built there are no longer sold here, particularly the EcoSport crossover and Figo hatchback.
Models like the Fiesta, Focus and Tourneo Connect, aimed at developed markets such as Europe that comply with EU and UK safety and emissions standards, became too expensive and sales reversed, meaning they would not carry the current car. to SA. The Kuga SUV also falls into that category, and has also had to deal with a public relations disaster related to handling a series of fires involving cars.
A quick look at the Ford website gives you an idea of the scale of the retreat. Aside from the Ranger, the only car you can buy is the Mustang — old-fashioned and very nice, but not a volume model. You can still get the EcoSport for now, if you want (although the same car has been in production for a whole decade now), the Everest, and various incarnations of the Ford Transit van/bus.
I really don’t know how this model range can sustain the 120 odd dealerships the company has in south Africa, especially as competitors shift from wholesale models to direct online sales and agency models, where dealers only operate as service centers and hubs for customer engagement. .
Ford’s fate here is illustrative. The continuity of manufacturing operations is good for both jobs and skills, and the distant horizon on Ford’s investment timeline is also good news, but a local offering made up of volume trucks, low-selling linked SUVs, custom sports cars and a van is bad news for dealers — and within the service and dealer network there is a large amount of work.
Ford SA is literally grass under elephant’s feet in all of this, as the company’s inability to secure a supply of the product it’s building here—Everest illustrates. The sudden demise of India’s operations meant not having products to sell in markets like ours.
Toyota, besides the locally made Hilux, HiAce, and Fortuner, is just as bad and doesn’t have a product to match, but has a better deal on a global level. This is why you see so many Toyota Urban Cruisers and Toyota Starlets around this place—they’re not Toyotas at all, but Indian-made Suzukis, sold with the Toyota badge here and doing really well. Toyota wouldn’t care, because every time someone needed a new oil filter or a repaired bumper, they went to the local Toyota dealer, and it kept the whole engine running.
Trucks and SUVs
Without its operations in India, Ford could not have done this, and there was little of value that Ford SA could have done. The recent launch of the Toyota Corolla Cross, a crossover SUV, to replace the production Corolla in Durban, is the real difference between the two companies. Made locally, available with hybrid drive, and reasonably priced, once Toyota can actually make cars again, you’ll see this everywhere.
Ford has no such plans and appears to have accepted its place in the global scene as a manufacturer of trucks and SUVs, leaving the manufacture of cars and crossovers accessible to other companies. It’s not like we’re alone in South Africa. Even at home in the US, Ford couldn’t sell a real car other than the Mustang. It was a turn of events from the company that made the mass adoption of motor cars possible.
Toyota, Suzuki with the Toyota badge, Suzuki and Volkswagen will step in to fill the space vacated by the EcoSport, Figo, Focus and Fiesta. I recently spent a week at the wheel of the new Volkswagen Polo TSI with its tiny one-litre engine and automatic gearbox. It’s just amazing. The Suzuki Swift, smile-per-rand, is still one of the best cars I’ve driven all year, and the Brezza/Urban Cruiser is a great little car.
While the brand will be very visible on the road with its surprising new truck, I can’t say that Ford’s demise as an automaker isn’t the least bit sad. I grew up in Ford — Granadas, Sierras, Escorts and so on. I learned to drive on the 1970s brown 1.6 liter Sierra Estate. My kids won’t. Too bad. DM/BM