Of all the new cars launched at the Paris Show in early October, the most intriguing was the Ford Mondeo. Normally this class of car does not cause too much excitement at such events because the exotics on offer from Ferrari or Porsche, Aston Martin or Bentley, generally grab the headlines. What is of special interest about this latest model to wear the blue oval is that it probably represents Ford’s last chance to remain a major player in Europe.
For all the talk of Ford being a global player and owning a series of brands to die for, it is suffering in Europe. It has seen its market share slip from 11.5% to 9.5% in just two years. Even in the UK, where it has been the leader for around 30 years with well over 20% of the market, its share has dropped to around 17%.
It has over-capacity problems in the region, as well, and earlier this year announced that it was completely reorganising its production facilities. This included the termination of Dagenham to the east of London as a car plant, the closure of uneconomic factories in Poland and Belarus, and the selling of its interests in a couple of joint ventures.
“Fundamental to the entire process review was Ford’s outlook for vehicle assembly capacity in relation to expected de- mand,” said Ford of Europe chairman Nick Scheele. “In 1999 Ford of Europe had the capacity to build 2.2 million vehicles, but sold only 1.65 million,” while in the near- to medium- term future he forecasts it will only reach around 1.8 million. It is against this background that Ford is launching the new Mondeo that will be built at the Genk assembly plant in Belgium.
When the first version of the car was launched in 1993, it was universally praised in Europe for being a considerable improvement on the Sierra, the model it replaced. It had a great chassis and a long list of safety features. After seven years, though, its charms were beginning to fade and it was badly losing out to newer products from rival manufacturers, with the Volkswagen Passat presenting the biggest challenge in recent years. From being a non-runner in its earlier iterations, the revamped model took the market by storm upon its introduction four years ago, mainly to the detriment of the Mondeo.
So Ford needed a replacement badly, but it had to be more than the old model. Since the demise of the unloved Scorpio executive class car, the Mondeo has been the top Ford model in Europe, a role for which the first model was not designed. The new one, though, not only has to take on its competitors in the upper-medium segment, but also be Ford’s flagship in Europe. The answer was to hire designers who knew the score, which was why both J Mays, Ford’s design supremo, and Chris Bird, Ford’s European studio chief, were enticed into the fold from VW.
Although both designers came into the loop well into the Mondeo’s development period, both were able to exert some in-fluence on the final product. The end result is that while the New Edge exterior design as seen on the Ka and Focus is continued in a more muted way in deference to the Mondeo’s more conservative buyers, there is a more Teutonic or “solid” feel to it, although it is still unquestionably a Ford.
“In creating the new Mondeo, we wanted to reinforce the brand identity of Ford by evolving those delicate references to the dynamic elements of New Edge design that have made Ford Ka and Ford Focus a success,” says Bird. “The design of this new medium-size sedan was not intended to be mould-breaking or too bold. Instead, it was to have a classical orientation with totally balanced proportions.”
While the new car is indeed a handsome newcomer to the Ford range, the fact about which the carmaker is most proud is that it was taken from “Appearance Approval” to “Job One” in 24 months, a record time for a Ford model. This was due to the adoption of integrated computer engineering tools. Known at Ford as C3P, it is a combination of computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and a massive product data management (PDM) system. It allows product development engineers to design a component on a computer, then electronically create a virtual model of how the part would function in the vehicle, and actually simulate its manufacturing and assembly processes. A Ford engineer working in Cologne, Germany, another working in Dunton, England, and a third working in North America or Japan can work on this same component via the system. Each change to any component is automatically shared with all other parties.
Paul Mascarenas, the chief program engineer, attributes this for taking 13 months from the Mondeo’s development process as it eliminated a whole raft of physical prototypes. “We built our first prototype straight from the digital world, thanks to the C3P process,” says Mascarenas. “That first prototype came together with no build issues, which until then had been unheard of. We drove it on our test track straight away at some pretty high speeds. It was a huge confidence builder for the whole team. We had lived with C3P, we had changed entire processes to get there, but it wasn’t until I was behind the wheel of that first prototype that I recognised the gravity of what we had accomplished. I felt like someone who had just flown the first flight in an aeroplane they designed.”
“The significance of the new Mondeo to the future of the Ford Motor Company here in Europe cannot be overstated,” says Scheele. “Our flagship has been the groundbreaker of new technology that will help Ford develop products not only quicker but also better. It is the first of an aggressive new product launch initiative that will see Ford treble its product introduction pace over each of the next five years.”
There are also high hopes for the new model in other parts of the world. Following heavy criticism in the U.S.–where it was known as the Contour and Mystique–for its poor rear passenger space, the new model boasts a class-leading interior in terms of space and refinement which Ford believes will set it apart from its rivals. Sadly, though, despite its Mondeo nomenclature and worldly pretensions, and despite addressing its interior problems, this is one Ford model that will not be coming to North America.
“The significance of the new Mondeo to the future of Ford Motor in Europe cannot be overstated.”