Ford's new Mondeo is being delayed by the "need to address the business structure in Europe" - and in particular the future of the Genk plant in Belgium - said the company's head of product development, Barb Samardzich.

The US Ford Fusion on which the new Mondeo is based was shown at the Detroit show over a year ago and is now well established in NAFTA markets while the Mondeo was presented to dealers and press at a pre-Paris show briefing last September but kept well away from the company's stand. It's not at Geneva either.

The reason it will be about 12 months behind schedule in making it to market is that delicate negotiations are going on over the future of the Genk plant as part of Ford's European restructuring plans. Ford needs to turn around its loss-making European operations which were US$1.5bn (£1bn) in the red last year.

"We are trying to reach a consensus which will allow us to establish our production capability," said Samardzich. "The delay is nothing to do with engineering. In fact, once we come to an agreement I have told the engineers they will be able to walk away. This is one of the most developed new cars we have ever created."

If agreement can be reached with the unions, Genk will close and Mondeo production will probably move to Valencia which is rapidly becoming Ford's most versatile European plant.

When Ford had to perform life-saving surgery on its US operations in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse it desperately needed a new product range as well as a better business plan but in Europe the cars are in many cases already among the best in class.

Samardzich said that to help attract new customers there will be greater diversification and Ford has announced plans to globalise the EcoSport compact SUV previously reserved for South America and to bring the larger Edge crossover and Mustang sports car over from the US, including right-hand drive.

The other main line of attack will be to "keep exceeding expectations," said Samardzich. "We must never say 'that's it - we're done'," she added. "An example is the sliding doors with no central pillar on the B-Max, we have to keep finding things that people can't live without but aren't even thinking about yet."

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