Interview with Ford Ireland’s new Senior Management Team

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.. Ciaran McMahon, incoming Managing Director; Michael Ring, Commercial Vehicle Manager and John Manning, Marketing Manager with Jarlath Sweeney

JS  Ciaran, you will be focusing on the MD role now from here on in.  Once you ‘get your legs under the table’, what’s your plan?

CMcM I’ve a clear high level plan in my mind but the most immediate plan is what we’ve just launched to our dealer body, a strategic plan to gain back market leadership in 2015. That is the most important goal at this point to make sure the dealers are fully enthused and are fully aware of what’s on the table, be fully aware of our product range and be fully aware of the potential that’s there.  So, our market leadership goal for next year is key to a successful 2015.

JS   But the marketplace has changed dramatically, since the previous generation Mondeo came out, as the Korean brands have come on very strong, and the German brands have sold extremely well – so is your task a little more difficult, even though the market is growing?

CMcM Yes, I accept that the Koreans have come on a lot stronger, they’ve been challenging us, and have been growing their share financially over the last 3, 4 or 5 years especially in the CD segment. So that’s one of the challenges, our Mondeo was delayed in coming to launch. We’re a couple of years behind the line – it was launched in the States as the Fusion but we believe now we have the right product.  We’re very happy with the product.  It’s come at the right time for Ireland, we can talk about the missing two years but that’s history, so let’s talk about the future. We believe the product is excellent, we’ve driven it, we love it, the think it is fantastic. So, we are confident we are going to double and maybe treble our sales next year versus 2014. Our aspiration is a minimum 3,000 units which will get us about 2.7% share of the national market.

JS  One of the fortes within the Ford brand is you’re a strong dealer network, some are long traditional Ford dealers.  Some were lost during the downturn but do you see any further changes within the dealership structure under your regime?

CMcM  Yes, it’s a growing issue, Dealer representation, as a whole, Ford Ireland will put up their hands and say we have too many dealers, it’s a historical issue. We did lose quite a number of dealers, 7 or 8 back in the early days of the recession and that was the initial bang, but we haven’t lost anybody since.  I believe there will be some more national attrition over the next couple of years but we don’t intend implementing a strategy of ‘slash and burn’ unlike some of our competitors have.  We will take an approach of looking at the national attrition level and then see do we need to tweak it further.

JS  Have you gaps in between? I know the West for example, was badly hit.

CMcM As it stands at the moment, we don’t believe we have any representation gaps in the country. Geographical and physical gaps we have, we do not see them as representation points that would justify business for a Ford dealer. While there may be a certain number of kilometres between dealers I don’t think this business case would justify a dealership and with the road structure hugely improving over the last 10 years you can get to any Ford dealer probably maximum in 40 minutes so we don’t see that as an issue.

JS   John, on the marketing side – the pressure is on with lots of new products launched?

JM In many ways I have the worse job, but also the best job – the worst job probably is translated in the long hours but the best job is when you can announce the product line up that’s coming over the next 12 months which is nothing short of fantastic.  Just to see the dealer body and our fleet customers and indeed the press; the enthusiasm just makes the job worthwhile.

JS  With all this positive energy and the good will that is there, how are you going to translate that into more sales?

JM  Well, at the end of the day it’s all about numbers and us marketeers are the creative ones and sometimes accused of not being in reality. But I can assure you I’m very much in reality having come from a sales environment and the numbers count here.  We have really planned for the arrival of the all-new Mondeo as carefully as we can and all-new Focus. We have announced a heavy weighted media campaign.  Coming through in terms of next year, we will have a new C-MAX in Q2 a new S-MAX, Galaxy, Vignale, Mustang of course, and a new Ford Edge in Q4. We have to ensure, because in my mind, we have without question the best line up we ever had. It’s now time that we let our customers know we have this fantastic product range.  How are we going to communicate it? It’s an ongoing development and certainly you’ll see it. All I’ll say is watch this space come from January!

JS  Pardon the Pun but is there more focus on the Mondeo than on the revamped Focus?

JM Well Mondeo is obviously an incredibly important car for us as Ciaran said earlier we’d have loved to have this 18 months ago but as I said to our dealers recently – that’s history, you move forward in this business and in truth it’s a car that has been worth waiting for.  We are conscious of Focus which to be honest has been our bread and butter, it’s been the food that fed our dealers and is the car that has been most liked by our customers in recent years. We’re very conscious of that and in that mindset (because normally when you have a budget it’s heavily weighted towards the all new car) we have made a strategic decision to invest equally in Focus so Focus basically will have its place and the customers and indeed the dealers will also see the investment that we are putting behind all new Focus as equal to Mondeo.

JS  Ciaran, we spoke about the fleet contracts to the emergency services, will there be a renewed sales objective in this sector? 

CMcM Yes we have a great history in tradition with the emergency services, such as Defence Forces, the Gardai, the HSE.  Ford has a great traditional in supplying vehicles to that sector and in the main we have been very successful.  There comes a point when the company that is Ford has to make a decision to say this is the price we are happy to sell with, a very competitive price but if competitors want to go below that price, we decide not to match them and then the customer can decide to balance up the cost, the quality, the service and the vehicle workmanship as a balance rather than just on price. Residual values are very important to us.  If you flood the market with a certain fleet with hundreds of vehicles at a very low cost, they will come back into the market and hurt residual values and that’s no good for us, no good for the dealers. Besides just pricing the vehicles there is a strategy behind it that we are careful, it’s not just always lowest price, it’s the price we feel comfortable with and that we are happy to sell at.

JS  Moving on now to the advanced SYNC technology which we see in the new Mondeo, my question is from a dealer perspective or even from the fleet customer side, do you clearly explain what this technology is all about?

CMcM We have plans in place in our training centre for dealer training on SYNC and technologies, that is an ongoing process.  I’ve used it, and agree there is a lot of switchgear there.  Training is critical from a dealers point of view and from a fleet perspective.  We have to depend on the dealer, so we concentrate our training with them. That being said, we also bring our fleets to the training centre to bring them up to speed on that.

JS  While SYNC can be applauded, because of the safety aspects it brings, but is there a danger of the driver becoming distracted if they are trying to learn it on the road that’s the big issue?

CMcM I fully agree, it is about education, it’s about training. We feel we are strong in that area, particularly with our dealers because they are (if you like) our main focus and in the handover stage. In the staged handover with our customers, there is a fully documented process where the dealer has to go through all aspects of the vehicle.  So SYNC is one of those and the customer has to sign a form at the end to say “I’m happy now, I’ve been shown all the aspects of it,” and that is in place at the moment. That’s just one of the aspects but there can be issues if the handover is not completed correctly.

JS  Michael, the timing of the Mondeo launch is right, with a good lead-in now, as the marketplace is in transition?

MR  I think the whole timing for us has been fantastic, we pushed the timing to be honest with Ford Europe, we pushed them to the limit because we are the first in Europe to launch – we said we need the car or else we’ll miss Q1 – we miss next year we’re history.  We’ve pushed them and we’ve got a commitment.  We’ll have 1,000 units on the ground by Christmas which is fantastic news, the industry is on the up. We have market share aspirations next year so I think there is a lot of strands of positivity coming through at the same time, I won’t say it’s a perfect storm but there’s a lot of stuff happening, there is a rising tide and we are very positive that it’s going to make a good impact next year.