However, that was as good as it got, at least from a financial perspective. Buyers still benefited from the RPJ legacy: the 2008 Fiesta was head-and-shoulders above its rivals. However, its rivals steadily narrowed the dynamic gap, or found ways of negating it. The interior of the VW Golf Mk7 was such a thing of beauty that buyers probably signed on the dotted line before bothering to find out that the Focus was a nicer drive.
Today Ford of Europe only really competes in the supermini and small family car segments. The current Ford Fiesta looks broadly the same as the 2008 model, and has dropped behind the Volkswagen Polo, let alone the Vauxhall Corsa. The Puma is doing well, but it is the only Ford that is No. 1 in its segment. The Ford Focus, the leading family hatchback for 20 years, is now in fourth place, and the Kuga is in fifth position. That is like trying to win a 4×400 relay when three of your runners are off the pace.
So where does Ford go from here? The short answer is light commercial vehicles (LCVs). Ford’s new mantra is that the Ford Transit Custom is Britain’s best-selling vehicle, while Ford takes a stellar 34.4% of the overall LCV market. The Transit is the one Ford that’s been impervious to attack for decades – in fact, it has never done better. What was initially designed in Britain to compete with long-dead brands like Bedford, Austin-Morris and Commer (in whose death the Transit played a major role) is now the best-selling medium-sized van in the world. It has even managed to drag the US van market out of the stone age – prior to the Transit’s US launch in 2014, the Ford E-Series van had been basically unchanged since 1975. In an exclusive interview with Autocar, Lisa Brankin, MD of Ford UK, said “Ford has a long-standing strategy to grow commercial vehicle sales.” Asked if the same applied to cars, there was a subtly different emphasis: “The aim is a long-term sustainable car business”, although she added that she could see no reason why the Fiesta couldn’t retake the Number One slot. Brankin added that, as LCVs currently have the longest waiting lists, they are being prioritised for production over cars (the fact that LCVs traditionally have higher profit margins may also play a role in that decision, of course).