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[NEWS] Inside the industry: Echoes of Chevy as Ford goes American in Europe

Inside the industry: Echoes of Chevy as Ford goes American in Europe

Ford Explorer 2024 front quarter tracking render
The new Ford Explorer kicks off the brand's American-inspired marketing push

The history of American attempts to enter the European car market serves as a stark warning to Ford

Unapologetically American. Two buzzwords on which Ford has staked its future in Europe. Two buzzwords that, I’m guessing, are sparking either excitement or fear in you right now – or maybe a bit of both – depending on your world view.

Baseball, burgers and big, brash events are all things I think the Americans do exceptionally well. Donald… actually, I won’t go there. But I will offer up one controversial suggestion of an American shortcoming: exporting car brands to Europe.

Harsh? Of course. There are exceptions. But, by and large, there are reasons why American brands haven’t fared well in Europe (and vice versa). Either way, I’d argue Ford’s past sales success has largely been down to it being perceived as having roots here, even if it was headquartered across The Pond.

Proof? Chevrolet – which launched in Europe in 2005 and announced its withdrawal one model cycle later, in 2013 – springs to mind as an example of how wrong it can go, although I accept it could be seen as an unfair comparison, given the roots of its models in Korean brand Daewoo’s back catalogue. Even so, as a name, Chevy got no traction. The Aveo, Captiva, Cruze, Orlando and Spark largely lived and died tended to by rental firms.

Another? Jeep is still here, plugging away, its fortunes ebbing and flowing (but mostly ebbing). Admittedly, at one point, around 2018, it looked like a potential Land Rover rival in terms of volumes. It could be again, although if it is, it will be propelled by the European Car of the Year Avenger, which, lest we forget, is built off a Stellantis platform and paired to a French-made electric motor.

Yet maybe, just maybe, Ford’s timing is right. What put people off buying American cars in the past? The brand or the capabilities of the vehicles they were producing? I’d argue the latter: largely, it was the difference in tastes between model types and sizes, powertrains and ride and handling expectations, summarised simply if naively by one region driving on long straight roads and the other relishing short hops on twisty ones.

Now, though, the global taste is for SUVs (of wildly varying sizes), the powertrain choice set to be limited to an electric motor and battery and the ride and handling homogenised (and compromised) as a consequence. In brutally simple terms, it’s why Chinese brands with little or no equity see now as their opportunity to break through. In that context, Ford’s decision to reaffirm its heritage and distil its offering back to its roots makes more sense.

As such, a lot hinges on the nuances of what Ford means by ‘Unapologetically American’. Forget the buzzwords; they may jar with some, but if buyers like the products in this post-Fiesta, post-Focus era, it might be a simplification that returns the brand to profitability and finally puts it back on track in Europe.

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