Features Interviews

Interview: Nigel Sharp

Time 10 years ago

ford-sales-lead-still-growingFord of Britain’s managing director talks exclusively to Car Dealer about his hopes for the new Ford Focus

How important is the new Focus to dealers?

Well, it revolutionised Ford in 1998 when dealers were having a bit of a tough time. It was such a hit not just in Britain but across Europe that it changed our fortunes. It changed people’s perceptions of the medium family car and has been number one best seller in the UK until it was overtaken by the Fiesta. It is hugely important.


In terms of buyers, will it be existing owners or conquests for this car?

It’ll be a bit of both. The usual pattern is you’d get somewhere between 60-70 per cent loyalty in terms of retail. But we’re going to be changing the profile of who we’re selling to. We think we’ve been a little over-reliant on short-term cycle sales, vehicles that change ownership within a year. That’s about 25 per cent of the UK car market. We won’t be pre-registering cars as much now either. If you’re over reliant on that market your residual values suffer. We want to get our residual values up to best in class.

How do you plan to do that?

It’s one our biggest challenges. Supply will play an important role. Right now we are short on everything from Kuga through to Mondeo, Galaxy to S-MAX. We can’t make any more than we are already. We hope we’ve got the bet right for Focus supply. To match Focus to demand we’re continuing with the old one – called Focus Sport – alongside it through to around September.



Ford will push Titanium and Titanium X ranges

Typically the Zetec range is the one most buyers choose. Because the car has such terrific technology we expect to attract more customers from above so we hope they’ll be a strengthening for the Titanium and Titanium X. We’ve packed up a lot of the new technologies into bunches too so they’re affordable.

What about engine wise – which will dealers be selling the most of?

It’s an interesting one but probably more diesel than petrol. It’s a reaction to whenever fuel prices rise. But diesels are becoming much more expensive to manufacturer to meet Euro Five regulations which adds a premium to them. The low mileage customer is much better off buying the petrol models and they’re getting much more efficient.

There’s a lot of interesting technology on this new car, will it be a struggle to get all this across to customers?

The tech has huge implications for us and for dealers. Over the last 20 years salesman have been selling price or a deal, but shame on us. We ought to be selling product. But you need to do one or the other. That’s why we’re going to invest in a huge retraining programme. That’ll also result in new recruitment. Some dealers are already there but some are a long way away from where they need to be.

What about numbers – what are you expecting to sell?

Last year we sold 76,000 Focus and we’d hope to do better, but there’s also a factor to throw in and that’s the new car is sleeker and has a little less trunk room so people who want a bit more room will consider the five-door C-MAX. We’ve never really sold that retail as it was a bit too boxy but the new car is different. The user chooser fleets and retail will see some cannibalisation of Focus. Overall we’ll attract new customers but how much of that will be new Focus and how much will be C-MAX, well the jury’s out on that one.


Electric Focus - coming to Europe in small numbers

What about the electric Focus, what are your thoughts on that?

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Well, that’s coming to Europe in small volumes to start with. But it is a limited market. Some customers, like energy companies, will want to take it on as well as Londoners. But the guideline is it’ll have a 160km range and that’s quite limiting. Charging is three hours, which is relatively quick, but people will see the car as used for urban and these people will have on-street parking so where will they plug it in? There are a few challenges for the whole electric market, but we need to ensure we’re moving at the same speed as the whole industry in terms of technology. We’re not rushing it and it’ll be limited volumes. Transit Connect will be first, it’ll be a pilot and small volumes and we’ll learn from that.

Read our handbook on the brand-new Ford Focus here.

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James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer.

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