ANALYSIS: Genk 'rightsize' decision was 'right thing' - Ford
Freshly minted Valencia-built Mondeos lined up for the European media launch
The elephant in the room at the European media launch event for Ford's new Mondeo was clearly the closure of the Genk factory in Belgium, until now the source of the automaker's key D-segment contender.
In a slick video presentation by multiple top executives - in a 'movie theatre' specially built for the purpose - the likes of Ford European chief Stephen Odell acknowledged the company's regret at having to axe the long-established plant and its many long-serving workers but insisted it was necessary.
The post 2007 credit crunch downturn was protracted and deep and Ford needed to 'rightsize' its operation, Genk had to go.
Odell had spoken at length on that in an interview with just-auto at the Geneva show last March, saying effectively that the One Ford global product strategy had kept the automaker alive in Europe. The strategy for turnaround in Europe was based on cost and capacity cuts as well as a new product offensive that draws on global product development activity and, without that global platform, losses in Europe would not have been sustainable.
"Because we are part of Ford global, we have been able to use the overall cycle plan and the menu of products and piggy-back on other things to have an accelerated product cadence. To have 25 vehicles that are all-new or substantial freshenings in five years is a real accelerant for us. You can't do that if you are burning through cash and losing money.
"We have taken some some tough decisions on cost, such as closing Genk, Southampton (Transit vans) and Dagenham (stamping and tooling)".
He reiterated the same points when he spoke to us earlier this month at the Paris show.
Genk has now stopped Mondeo output as Valencia (in Spain) ramps up with the redesigned Mondeo and, by the end of this year when Genk closes, and Valencia starts building replacement S-Max (and presumably Galaxy, though execs are coy about the replacement for this model), Ford will have reduced capacity in Europe by 18% (equating to the removal of 350,000 units of installed assembly capacity capability).
"As difficult as it was, I still feel we did the right thing," Odell said this week.
The two-year wait for Europe's version of North America's Fusion (unveiled at the 2012 Detroit show) has not been wasted, according to Ulrich Koesters, Ford Europe's C/D vehicle line director. North America builds only a four door sedan, which will account, in hybrid form only, for about 5% of Valencia's output.
Here in the UK, where the Mondeo is a fleet 'user chooser' driver's staple, the hybrid saloon is expected to account for only 3% of orders though Ford UK insiders hope they'll be "surprised" and the tally is a little higher. Diesels will account for about 90% of UK sales with the rest of the body style split being 62% for the five-door hatchback and 35% the estate car (wagon).
Koesters pointed out that, far from just locally building a NAFTA-designed sedan, Ford Europe has engineered those new five-door bodies, preferred this side of the Atlantic, and engineered the entire range for five new petrol and eight diesel engine/transmission combinations (with more to come in the first quarter of 2015) plus the hybrid.
On top of that, the European cars have many more electronic driver aids including a pre-collision assist system with pedestrian recognition technology, and an expanded active city stop system. Ford's well-liked parallel and perpendicular parking system - launched a a few years ago with the Focus - is also on offer.
European cars also have optional active steering assist (a vibration through the wheel rim and the system can also be set to steer you back into the lane you drifted out of), a different leather trim specification, multi-function massage front seats, power adjustable steering column with memory and the wagon and hatch can have power tailgates as well. The European five-door models also have weight-saving magnesium body sections - principally around the tailgates which are unique.
Chassis are essentially the same with region-specific tuning (Koesters said Europe tuned the US cars) and there are different tyres to suit local roads. Vehicles built for eastern Europe ride 12mm higher to give more ground clearance on poor roads. All wheel drive versions coming in 2015 were a joint development with NAFTA region engineers; the driveline is adapted from the Edge SUV - also coming soon to Europe - with which the Fusion/Mondeo shares a platform.
Koesters described Valencia as Ford's new European 'megaplant' with a capacity now north of 400,000 units a year and a flexible production line now supplemented by three new press lines and a completely new body shop with one assembly line.
As part of preparations for the Mondeo, the C-Max was moved to Saarlouis in Germany (to join the mainstream C-segment Focus line) and Valencia now also builds Transit Connect and Kuga plus the new Mondeo with S-Max to come.
Koesters said not all Genk equipment has been moved to Valencia as Genk has had model run-out work to do but some new equipment, intended for new Mondeo at Genk was redirected to Valencia instead. Suppliers with large investments in Genk (such as supplier parks) also had to move while supporting exisiting production but the massive logistical effort has been a success.
The D segment is contracting slowly but, globally, is still significant and developing the replacement Mondeo as the latest One Ford product allowed a higher level of investment to deliver that sort of technology. On a regional basis, it would have been hard to justify what was done.
While NAFTA markets get cars assembled there (some are exported from Mexico to Brazil under a free trade agreement); Genk will ship Europe-wide and as far as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Unlike the smaller and higher volume Fiesta and Focus, there won't be Thai assembly (which also benefits from a free trade agreement with Australia). Russia and China will build their own.