Posts tagged ‘new-product development’


Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Microsoft: if IE9 displays blank pages, it’s your own fault, so format your hard drive

30.01.2012

You’ve got to hand it to some folks for discovering words in their “word-a-day” calendars and they feel compelled to use it.
   If you go to Microsoft Answers, there are dozens of people wondering why their Internet Explorer 9s don’t display anything. So, I decided to report the bug I have had since March, and which I have found exists again in Windows 7 on a brand-new machine.
   Here’s the dialogue with Microsoft:

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/ie/forum/ie9-windows_7/internet-explorer-9-only-displays-blank-pages-on/3c844c46-3b22-4530-abc4-6e22f6ed2a6f

   Injudicious isn’t the right word here. But he gets a real kick out of using it.
   There are some very basic things the chap missed. (1) Before any System Restores were done, the product didn’t work. And they don’t work on two out of two machines here, one of which has never had a Restore. (2) If those security patches were released mid-December and mid-January, they should have been among the updates done the first time, before the System Restore. (3) The essential advice here seems to be: how dare you use a feature that we supplied. You should never use it.
   Once he seized upon that and a rival product, that was it. We here at Microsoft are perfect. You should not use anyone else’s products. Bing is better than Google.
   And there’s the usual power-trip of needing to have the last word even when the customer has said he wishes to end the dialogue. I see he has discovered italics now, too.
   The strategy is to blame the customer, but, if you hunt around the web, this is a major fault with Internet Explorer 9—which explains, as usual, why the other browsers are getting larger and larger shares. Microsoft’s failure to acknowledge it means that folks will simply abandon a browser that, certainly before this latest version, is widely regarded as poor. I haven’t used it regularly since v. 5, when it had a noticeable advantage over Netscape.
   I don’t actually use IE in any case. But McAfee uses it for its HTML-based displays, and one Windows Gadget I use also employs it. The latter always will, but I can’t see the former remaining in this situation if already some people are reporting that they cannot see their McAfee anti-virus program.
   I decided to end the conversation because the issues being raised were irrelevant, he was dodging all the real questions about a faulty product, and there’s no point in telling someone where he messed up if the whole aim is to be unhelpful. Go through the Microsoft forums and there’s not one tech in any position who can go beyond the routine: it’s either deliver the stock answers, or play the blame game.
   Bit like Google, then.
   At the end of the day, it’s not even a product I use. Otherwise, as in the above link, I’d be quite prepared to fight on for half a year.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 12 Comments »


Saab to get €245 million if Pang Da and Youngman deal approved

04.07.2011

Today, from Saab:

Swedish Automobile N.V. (SWAN) and Saab Automobile AB (Saab Automobile) today announced the signing of final agreements with Pang Da Automobile Trade Co., Ltd. (Pang Da) and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., Ltd. (Youngman), thereby converting the non-binding memorandum of understanding relating to the equity investment of Pang Da and Youngman …

The amount of the investment is €245 million, which amounts to this, according to Saab (some proofreading changes by me):

The agreements allow for the return of Mr Vladimir Antonov as a shareholder–financier of SWAN and Saab Automobile which the parties expect as soon as the parties at interest have cleared him. The NPJV will be 50 per cent owned by Saab Automobile and 50 per cent by Youngman Passenger Car, and forms the foundation for an expansion of the Saab product portfolio with three models which, until now, did not form part of Saab Automobile’s current and future product portfolio. As such the NPJV will focus on developing three completely new Saab vehicles: the Saab 9-1, Saab 9-6X and Saab 9-7.

   No doubt there will be existing technology in the three cars, and they should go down terrifically in China. And if it all goes well, this means that Saab won’t follow MG Rover down the gurgler, despite having been unable to pay wages a few weeks ago.
   But €245 million isn’t that much in today’s world, especially since Saab can’t be breaking even at its present capacity.
   I don’t want to see Saab disappear. It may have been the choice of TV villains (Leslie Grantham in both The Paradise Club and 99–1 comes to mind) as well as one or two real-life ones I can think of, but it’s a storied brand and it’s made good cars over the years. And a mate of mine has a 900, too.
   Sweden hasn’t spent all these years bagging the brand, either—it was effectively stripped of its Saab-ness while under General Motors.
   Let’s hope the company can get things right with the Chinese equity stake, which hopefully will provide more confidence. It’ll open up distribution in China, providing the government agencies agree, where a foreign brand like Saab would go down immensely well, and just at the right time. Good timing was not something that MG Rover was blessed with, regardless of the actions of the Phoenix Four.
   The discerning Chinese buyer is emerging on the mainland, and they don’t necessarily want the flash of the Mercedes-Benz. A more subtle brand might work there, and Saab actually fits the bill.
   The 9-7, I assume, is a large car, and Youngman’s Pang Qingnian hints that not only will China get this model, but the US as well.
   Good luck to the parties on this one—here’s hoping the worst is over.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


Volvo unveils its China strategy

26.02.2011

Volvo press conference

Volvo has announced that it will build a plant in China, and seeks approval for a second, in what it calls its second home market.
   It was inevitable, though for the long-term survival of the brand, it’s not a bad idea.
   Through Geely’s acquisition, it can potentially leapfrog other foreign car brands inside China by having more than a domestic partner: a domestic owner.
   There won’t be much toing and froing as Geely can call the shots with Communist Party authorities.
   The company already has a technology centre in Shanghai to deal with design, purchasing and manufacturing decisions.
   The new Chengdu plant, says Volvo, will only build Volvo cars—there will be no Geelys going through there.
   Volvo also says it will not affect jobs in Europe, which can be believed at this stage: the plant should be sufficient to deal with growth in China and the eastern hemisphere, where Volvo could be a lot stronger.
   While Volvophiles won’t be upset about most of the developments above, there will be one that will concern them.
   The company says that Volvo Car China’s new-product development will be done in Shanghai, not Göteborg. Göteborg will take the lead on hybrid and electric cars globally.
   Given the volumes involved—Volvo is targeting 200,000 cars per annum by 2015 in China—I’m not sure if it means that China will get its own range of cars. The likely scenario is that there will be a single, global range at these numbers.
   So how will the balance of global Volvo NPD be shared between Göteborg and Shanghai?
   Volvo suggests that HQ remains in Sweden on one hand, but, according to Freeman Shen, senior vice-president and chairman of Volvo Cars China Operations, says, ‘The Volvo Car China Technology Centre in Shanghai will develop into a complete product development organization on an international level. It will have the competence and capacity to work together with the HQ in Sweden, participating in Volvo Car Corporation’s work process for developing entirely new models,’ says Freeman Shen.
   I’m not criticizing Geely’s competences because if you look at its latest models, the company has certainly come a long way. Chinese designers, if nothing else, are fast learners, and knock-offs are becoming things of the past if 2010’s new models are anything to go by.
   And as a Swede is heading over to China to help set up the plant, one envisages that similar training in the Volvo design and creative process will be in the offing.
   Otherwise, there won’t be much separating Volvos from other car lines with the exception of a grille with a diagonal bar.
   But the press conference still leaves questions unanswered about how the NPD process will work.
   Nevertheless, allowing Volvo to pursue innovation is good news. Ford permitted it to happen but so much platform development was done elsewhere. Volvo remained in charge of global safety for Ford models, and gave the old S80 platform to a variety of cars, including the current and previous Taurus.
   The difference is, the parent company’s platforms weren’t half bad to begin with. I’m not so sure about Geely’s.
   I do, however, like the idea of an innovative, world-first Volvo that can get its new developments in safety and alternative energies out to the market before the competition. No more will the firsts be moderated by Dearborn.
   Innovation has not deserted the company—it has announced a V60 diesel plug-in hybrid—but we will not know what the new Volvo will look like till a model, with no Ford heritage, surfaces in a few years. That will be an interesting development.
   Geely chairman Li Shufu says, ‘We continue to uphold our principle that Geely is Geely and Volvo is Volvo. A more globalized, more focused luxury brand will turn our vision of a growing and profitable Volvo Car Corporation into reality. The company will continue to contribute to the development of the global automotive industry by introducing world-first innovations that make an outstanding brand win in the market-place.’

That doesn’t really settle it though.
   I have some concerns with Mr Li’s market positioning, because there are Swedes, indeed many Europeans, who don’t see Volvo as a luxury brand.
   Thanks to Ford, Volvo was edged upmarket to avoid competition with its own models—but it means its market share at home has been severely reduced.
   Earlier this century, most Swedish taxicabs were Volvos—today Mercedes-Benz and Toyota serve a proportion of the local market as Volvo could not offer the smaller models it once did.
   And if its home market share continues to decline, never mind how China goes: Volvo will be increasingly inaccessible to first-time car buyers in Sweden. Its need, then, to retain brand values might be weakened.
   Speaking hypothetically, if these world-first innovations are created merely for luxury models, then how long will they take to get to the everyday market?
   I remember an era when Volvo didn’t skimp on safety and innovations for even its lowliest models. And Volvo-as-luxury seems to fly in the face of that.
   The reality is, if Volvo is going to find more volume in the orient, then the luxury positioning will be more dominant.
   It’s going to be easy to foresee Volvos going all over the east from the Chinese plant, to allow for greater profits. Renault and Peugeot are sourcing from plants in Korea and Malaysia to serve the eastern hemisphere, and as far afield as eastern Europe, at more reasonable prices. It would not be a bad idea for Volvo to follow suit: it’s not in the hallowed realms of BMW, and its pricing needs to reflect that.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden, technology | No Comments »