Ford: Europe profitable, but there’s still ‘work to do’

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.’s transformation plans in its long-struggling European region are finally paying off.

The Dearborn automaker surprised in 2015 by turning a profit there for the first time since 2011, and the automaker’s sales there rose 11 percent as well.

A combination of rising consumer confidence, pent-up demand and a slew of new products helped the Blue Oval sell 1.3 million vehicles in its 20 traditional European markets.

It became the No. 1 seller of commercial vehicles there, thanks to the Transit vans and Ranger pickup.

But executives expect more.

“Just being profitable is not enough of a goal; we still have work to do,” Roelant de Waard, vice president of marketing, sales and service, Ford of Europe, told The Detroit News in an interview.

“We believe the industry will continue to rise, maybe with not the same speed, but our expectation is it’s to go up again.”

De Waard said the industry sold about 16 million vehicles in Europe in 2015, and he foresees that rising to 16.5 million in 2016. He said the entire industry performed well in Europe last year as customers looked to buy more expensive vehicles.

“They sometimes choose smaller vehicles, but they have to mean something to them emotionally,” he said. “From premium to sporty entries, everything with an emotion to it is doing well.”

De Waard said Ford’s diesel options on its performance vehicles have helped sales. Sales of the automaker’s performance cars — including the Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Focus ST diesel and Mustang — were up 62 percent in 2015.

He said there’s been no negative fallout from Volkswagen AG’s emissions cheating scandal.

“That has stayed remarkably stable, in fact, slightly increased in our case,” he said of interest in diesels in Europe. “We do not see that the general interest has gone down. There are more questions asked, but it’s very important we can say we do not have cheat devices, and that has satisfied the customers.”

Ford’s SUV sales also performed well — up 31 percent in 2015 — thanks to offerings like the Kuga and EcoSport. Ford will launch eight new or updated vehicles in Europe this year — one more than in 2015.

De Waard said France, Germany, the UK and Spain all performed well, but Russia continues to be a trouble spot because of economic and geopolitical concerns. Automakers like General Motors Co. have announced plans to pull out of Russia, but Ford has committed to remaining there.

“We have a bit of a more long-term view,” de Waard said. “Our expectation is this can turn around.”

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