With five different regions, two languages and a geographically spread out dealer network, Canada is never an easy place for a foreign auto industry executive to get parachuted into.
But Barry Engle, a former Ford Division marketing general manager and the latest president and CEO of Ford Canada, has been a quick study since arriving in his Oakville office Feb. 1.
So Wheels asked him about issues important to this country:
Q: What excites you most about your new job?
A: We have some great new products. Like the new 2009 Lincoln MKS. Last year, the luxury segment in Canada grew 8 per cent; Lincoln was up 39 per cent, mainly due to the MKX crossover. And now, with the MKS, we have a bona fide full-size luxury sedan ready to go up against anything in the segment and do fine.
Crossovers, of course, are a big deal with us. At Ford, we saw an increase of 89 per cent in the number of these types of vehicles we sold last year. And now, with the addition of the Flex later this summer, we’ll have something that no one in the market has today.
Q: How do you go about messaging the differences between the Taurus X and Flex — two large crossovers — that perform very similar functions?
A: I think the Taurus X is a bit more conservative — traditional. It has a broader appeal. The Flex makes a very strong styling statement. Not everyone’s going to like it, and that’s okay. But if you like it, you’re really going to love it.
Q: In a market like Canada, where smaller vehicles are the heart of the market, what’s your answer to customers and Ford dealers asking, “Where’s the Focus wagon?”
A: Yes, I hear that too. But I think we can answer that in two parts. First, you are correct: the Canadian market is more open to small cars. In the long term — you’ve seen our Verve concept [a global Ford subcompact] that in two years we’ll be launching as the Fiesta in North America.
In the shorter term, we have the Focus. And yes, we do have customers saying, “What happened to my five-door?” But when we developed the new 2008 Focus; we made a decision to launch it as a sedan and a coupe. And if you look at the car that absolutely dominates that segment [Honda's Civic] it has the exact same two body configurations that we have.
Q: But how do you make the Focus competitive until the Fiesta shows up in 2010?
A: One way is how we’ll merchandise Focus. The other vehicle that comes into play [in Canada] for us is Escape. We’ve done really well with the Escape. We’ve upgraded the four- and six-cylinder powertains [for 2009], both mated to a six-speed automatic. That will offer improved performance and fuel economy
Q: How will you respond to the parity between the Canadian and U.S. dollar?
A: Our strategy has been — and will continue to be — to focus on the transaction price. In other words, “What’s this thing going to cost me to get it out the door? What’s going to be my monthly payment?” We’ve chosen to manage these variables, up until now. But if [further reductions in MSRPs] is something that we think is capturing the imagination of the consumer — and we think it’s something we’ll need to do — then we’ll do it.
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