- The Ford EcoSport, which was originally aimed at Europe and emerging markets, is under consideration for the U.S. as Ford's global SUV and crossover sales boom.
- The Ford EcoSport is built on Ford's global B-segment platform, which is the basis for the Ford Fiesta in the U.S. and Europe.
- Ford Motor Company expects global demand for utility vehicles to continue upward and the automaker plans to sell its utility vehicles in as many as 63 countries by 2017.
DEARBORN, Michigan — The Ford EcoSport, which was originally aimed at Europe and emerging markets, is under consideration for the U.S. as Ford's global SUV and crossover sales boom.
Word of the new plans for the EcoSport came during a conference on utility vehicles by the automaker on Wednesday. Ford Motor Company expects global demand for utility vehicles to continue upward and the automaker plans to sell its utility vehicles in as many as 63 countries by 2017.
The Ford EcoSport is built on Ford's global B-segment platform, which is the basis for the Ford Fiesta in the U.S. and Europe. The EcoSport is an affordable crossover vehicle smaller than the Escape that was developed in Brazil.
Sales began in Brazil earlier this year; sales in Europe will start late this year. The EcoSport is being rolled out in India and China as well.
"Since 2009 the global utility segment has really been on fire, growing much faster than the overall industry," Ford's U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkle said during the press conference at the automaker's world headquarters.
That year approximately 8 million utility vehicles were sold. This year, that number is expected to reach around 13 million, 18 percent of the global vehicle market, according to IHS Automotive.
"Going out to 2017, the projection is over 14 million, representing more than 20 percent of all vehicles in the industry," Merkle said.
Ford uses the term "utility vehicle" to refer to its SUVs and crossover vehicles. Globally, the automaker markets the EcoSport, Escape/Kuga, Explorer, Edge and Expedition. The Kuga is essentially a rebadged Escape, sold in Europe and other global markets.
"With all the downturns and all the economies around the world, here is a segment that is growing," said Jim Farley, the automaker's global head of marketing and Lincoln's boss. "And, oh, by the way, transaction prices are relatively higher, too."
Ford expects to produce 100,000 Kuga models in Europe this year, a record.
Merkle said Ford will expand global sales of its utility vehicles by 2017. Specifically, the Explorer will be sold in 27 countries; Edge, 40 countries; Kuga/Escape, 63 countries; and EcoSport, 62 countries.
Farley cited several reasons for the global growth of utility vehicles.
First, while some U.S. owners have abandoned full-size SUVs, many have not abandoned the utility vehicle segment. In particular, as baby boomers became empty nesters, they have downsized to vehicles such as the Explorer and Edge, a trend that is expected to last for the next 10 years.
Farley said that trend does not signal the eventual demise of the full-size SUV. Ford will continue to market full-size SUVs because the vehicles are sought by horse and boat owners to pull trailers; there is very little competition in the segment; and the big SUVs are popular in the Middle East. The SUVs also appeal to wealthy buyers who own three or four vehicles, he said.
Ford's utility vehicle share has increased significantly in its biggest U.S. market, namely California. During the first quarter, Ford held a 15 percent share of the utility vehicle market, nearly a 6-percentage point increase from the year-earlier period.
A second reason for the global growth of utility vehicles is fuel efficiency. Outside of North America, when "fuel economy became competitive to cars," Farley said many sedan and hatchback owners switched to utility vehicles, such as the Escape/Kuga and other models.
"That was a turning point," he said.
Finally, buyers in Europe, China and other regions of the world, just as those in North America, have been attracted to utility vehicles because of their comfortable ride, wide-ranging functionality, increased cargo space and higher seating position, a position that provides a better view of the road.
Farley said the fastest-growing utility vehicle segment globally is expected to be composed of small utilities, such as the Escape/Kuga and EcoSport. Small utilities accounted for more than 7 million vehicles in 2012, approximately 9 percent of global vehicle sales.
Small utility sales reached 1.4 million vehicles last year in China, up from about 120,000 units in 2005, according to IHS Automotive.
Edmunds says: Naysayers who prophesized several years ago that rising fuel prices and the poor economy would spell the demise of SUVs and crossovers can eat their words.