On November 21, Ford Lio Ho – Ford’s Taiwan joint venture – marked another milestone in its 45-year history with the introduction of the all-new Ford Escort. Developed by Ford’s global R&D team and built on the same platform as the Focus, the Escort exhibits Ford’s global requirements of high quality and ultra-rigid body construction for market-leading safety, as well as great looks, comfortable interior, and excellent performance.
Ford has made significant progress in China and throughout Asia-Pacific, and its worldwide strategy of building car models off of standard platforms allows it to offer labels customized for local markets while achieving economies of scale. Ford Lio Ho is confident that car buyers in Taiwan will conclude that Ford Escort offers unparalleled value in terms of safety, comfort, and cost.
“It’s been selling extremely well in China, and we saw a fantastic opportunity to bring the car to Taiwan,” says Peter Fleet, Ford’s Group Vice President and President Asia-Pacific. “When we went through what the opportunities are with the team from the whole global lineup, the Escort seemed a good fit, and the media reaction and initial customer reaction has been very encouraging.”
Escort is the first car to roll off the production line at the upgraded Ford Lio Ho plant in Zhongli. Ford and the Lio Ho Group – celebrating 45 years partnership this year – are investing NT$4 billion in a five-year plan to equip the plant with the most modern industrial technology, including advanced automation and machine-to-machine communication capability. As a result of the first-phase upgrading, the plant is already far more efficient and flexible than previously, allowing it to produce relatively small batches of a wide range of vehicles at costs that are competitive with much larger factories. Besides the Escort, workers at the Zhongli plant also assemble the Focus, Kuga, and Fiesta.
“It’s quite a tight operation – a very tailored and unique plant and that’s why it’s highly flexible,” says Fleet, who toured the plant the day before the Escort launch. “To be able to assemble relatively modest volumes of any number of different car lines – that’s a very different kind of plant.” This flexibility, efficiency, and cost-competitiveness allows Ford to continue assembling autos in the local plant rather than rely on imports.
Fleet offers several reasons why the new Escort is a good fit for Taiwan. “It offers class-beating rear-seat roominess and new levels of safety, both derived from quality engineering, such as the use of aircraft-grade boron steel for extra rigidity,” he explains.
The Ford Escort has undergone a total of more than 1,000 safety and quality assurance tests to its chassis systems, power systems, electrical systems, vehicle integration, and many more. With its very efficient 1.5-liter Ti-VCT powertrain, fuel economy is a competitive 14.2 kilometers per liter.
“And also we’ve been able to launch the car into the market at a very attractive price point – between NT$579,000 and NT$679,000,” says Fleet. “Safety, roominess, and outstanding value; we think that’s a great position.”
The All-New Ford Escort actually bucks the trends in global auto markets, Taiwan included, which have emphasized the utility and luxury market segments. Booming sales of Ford’s top imports into the Taiwan market – the light pickup truck, the Ford Ranger, and the acclaimed muscle car the Ford Mustang, imported from the U.S. – both attest to these trends.
“The Ranger is a real star across Asia-Pacific in terms of sales growth, profitability, and customer satisfaction – customers love the vehicle,” says Fleet. “Our market share has surpassed our expectations and we now have very ambitious growth plans for that vehicle.”
The Mustang, perhaps the most iconic sports car, with its classic styling and unsurpassed performance, virtually sells itself, says Fleet, and dealers love having the car on the lot.
Nevertheless, “family-car segments are still a very sizable slice of the market,” observes Fleet. And with Taiwan’s consumers increasingly interested in great value, “one of the expectations of the new Escort is that it will bring up car sales and grow our market share in Taiwan.”