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Is Ford too reliant on the Ranger for success? Why the brand needs to get more buyers into its new Puma and Escape SUVs

The Ranger has been a huge success for Ford, but relying on just one model for sales success can be dangerous.

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus turned the world on its head, we asked the question - was Ford Australia still living on its image as the ‘Falcon Car Company’ and leaving the Ranger to do all the heavy lifting in the sales race?

This year had the potential to be a turning point, with the arrival of both the Puma and Escape, all-new models in two critically important segments; compact SUV and medium SUV, respectively. Both offer huge sales growth opportunities for the Blue Oval brand.

Well, we’re now in December, so we can start to look at the sales data and see how Ford has fared this year.

Ranger still going strong

Let’s start with the good news. The Ranger is still a sales hit, regularly near the very top of the sales charts with its arch-rival, the Toyota HiLux. It remains an incredibly popular ute, particularly in its dual-cab form, which is a profitable business for Ford and is keeping the company tracking well ahead of the market.

Ford sales are down 8.8 per cent, which is a solid result in a market down more than 16 per cent thanks largely to the challenges thrown up by COVID-19.

However, there’s no escaping (pardon the pun) that Ford is still incredibly reliant on the Ranger for its local fortunes. The ute makes up a massive 68 per cent of its total sales, which puts an awful lot of pressure on the designers and engineers to make sure the next-generation Ranger due in 2022 is just as appealing to customers.

The next most popular model in Ford’s line-up is the Ranger-based Everest SUV, followed by the Mustang and Transit Custom. Ford Australia’s management needs to find a way to make its SUV range more popular if they don’t want to rely on its commercial vehicles to prop up the sales.

Endura didn’t endure

After two years trying to fill the void left by the locally made Territory, Ford Australia axed the Endura in November. No matter which way you spin it, cutting an SUV from your range isn’t a good outcome at a time when customers are snapping up SUVs of all shapes and sizes in record numbers.

But for a variety of reasons the Canadian-sourced Endura never found its footing locally against a stacked field of rivals that includes the Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9.

How unpopular? Unfortunately for Ford, the Endura has been out-sold this year by the newer but already discontinued Holden Acadia. It too was a North American SUV transplanted to Australia and despite Holden getting shut down, it managed to out-sell the Endura – 1407 vs 1242 (hopefully Ford can sell another 166 Enduras this month).

Is the Puma ready to pounce?

As me mentioned earlier, the real key to Ford’s growth will be its new SUVs, which includes the compact Puma. Ford was an early player in this part of the market, but the Indian-built EcoSport missed the mark with buyers and always struggled.

It’s still too early to get a clear picture on the new Puma’s chances because it has only gone on sale in September, but the initial signs aren’t entirely positive. The brand has notched 467 sales already, which is better than the EcoSport was managing at times, but a look at the November figures don’t make great reading for Ford.

Last month the Blue Oval sold 152 Pumas which is another sold result for what is an all-new car with a new/returning nameplate. But, the equally all-new Toyota Yaris Cross managed 794 sales while the also-new Volkswagen T-Cross found 270 buyers. So, there is still work for Ford to do to convince buyers to give its compact SUV a chance.

Can Ford Escape the bottom of the SUV sales charts

Arguably more important to Ford’s future growth than the Puma is the Escape. The mid-size SUV market is the single biggest segment in Australia’s car market, accounting for more than 160,000 sales and with three models (Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson) inside the top 10 sellers.

Again, it’s still early days for the Escape, having hit the market in October, but there’s a glimmer of hope. November’s 453 sales are dwarfed by the RAV4’s 3800 (as Toyota reportedly fills back orders for its popular hybrid model) but it has risen from 12th in the class to tenth - which is forward progress at least.

Given the challenges of selling cars in 2020 there’s reason for Ford to be optimistic. But its goal for 2021 should be to continue to try and lure more buyers from picking a RAV4, CX-5, Tucson, Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail or Kia Sportage and into a new Escape.

Otherwise Ford is in danger of becoming the ‘Ranger Car Company’ from now on.