March Surprise: One Of Detroit's Three Beats All Of Europe

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
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march surprise one of detroit s three beats all of europe

Who was Europe’s leading brand in March?

Volkswagen? Wrong.

PSA? Wrong.

Renault? Wrong.

It’s Ford. That at least according to a press release out of Ford’s European HQ in Cologne. According to that, “Ford was No.1 in Europe in March with sales of 192,500 vehicles, a 16.1 per cent increase – or 26,700 vehicles – compared to March 2009, and the company’s tenth consecutive month-on-month volume increase.”

Further according to the presser, Ford’s “market share was at a twelve-year high of 10.4 percent and the company’s best share in its main 19 European markets since August 1998.”

We immediately went to ACEA to read about the European revolution. However, official ACEA data are not available yet, Ford had jumped the gun, and we are unable to verify the #1 claim.

Most likely, Ford engaged in a little bit of new math. The industry around the world, along with ACEA, counts cars by company, not by brand. In February, Volkswagen Group led the European market with a share of 20.8 percent, followed by PSA Group with 14.9 percent and Renault Group with 11 percent. The Ford Group (including Volvo) ranked 4th with 10 percent.

As far as Volkswagen is concerned, they did not suddenly stumble from a 20.4 percent share to less than 10.4 in March. According to VW’s March report, they “improved their market share” in Europe.

So what happened? Is Ford lying through their teeth? Well, looks like they applied a little new math. Instead of comparing groups, they most likely compared brands. The Volkswagen brand (not counting Audi, Seat, Skoda, and a cast of thousands) had a share of 11.1 percent in February, the Ford brand (sans Volvo) had 8.4 percent. If the Ford brand surpassed the VW brand in Europe, then that alone would be quite some feat.

According to the press release, “Ford was the No.1 best-selling brand for March in the UK, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, The Netherlands and Turkey.” That’s not where the war for Europe is won. You need to be No. 1 in Italy, Germany, and France to make a lasting impression.

However, “Europe” is a matter of interpretation. It can be the Euro zone, it can be the EU, it can be EU plus EFTA, it can be the EU plus Russia, or it can be a “Europe” as defined by a company. Guess we’ll have to wait for the official ACEA numbers. They should be here tomorrow, latest on Monday.

One thing is clear: The Ford Group has not suddenly leapfrogged Renault, PSA, and Volkswagen. Be careful when you read reports of Ford’s sudden ascendance to the European top spot in other publications. You’ve read it here first. It’s bunk.

PS: The man who’s responsible for most of the Ford miracle, marketing boss Jürgen Stackmann, is leaving the blue oval, reported Autombilwoche [sub] two minutes ago. Where is he heading? To Volkswagen. He will assume a “significant role” in Wolfsburg. Stay tuned.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Jcap Jcap on Apr 16, 2010

    @Cammy Of course we know that Ford is an US Brand, nobody is denying that. Every German interested in the car Business knows that. Its just interesting that such an iconic American Brand is, through spin and its long local history, capable to sell itself as a German brand to the gullible Masses. Exactly what Toyota tries in the States. We are just making the point that this spin helps their sales in Germany.

  • Tricky Dicky Tricky Dicky on Apr 23, 2010

    Cammy - probably the key reason why Ford is perceived as a European brand is the simple fact that they started manufacturing vehicles in Europe from as far back as 1908 when they built a plant in Bordeaux, France (which they flogged just over a year ago - it was a transmission plant). For a very long part of Ford's history, they ran pretty much independently from Dearbourn control and have nearly always been led by British or German execs. I've no idea what proportion of the European workforce has American citizenship, but I expect it'd be low single digits. A very small amount of vehicles are imported from the US. Compare that to say Toyota in Europe. First plant set up in 1989 I think. Even today, about 10% of the workforce is Japanese (with top management being a great majority of Japanese) and the imposition of 'Toyota Way' [aka, strongly rural Japanese conservative culture and work ethic). 40% of the cars are still imported from the Far East.

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