Ford’s ambition to become ‘American vehicle of choice’

In 2020 a particular segment of passenger cars enjoyed strong sales in South Korea, reflecting a desire for road trips amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recreational vehicles, including sport utility vehicles and car-derived vans, accounted for nearly half of all cars sold here last year, according to data from the Transport Ministry.

For Ford Sales and Service Korea, this was an opportunity to solidify its position here as a leader in SUVs and pickup trucks, the company’s Managing Director David Jeffrey said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Jan. 20.

The company is planning six launches this year — four SUVs and two pickup trucks — based on a careful analysis of the local market, the executive said.

The first vehicle, already rolled out earlier this month, is the Ford Explorer Platinum, the luxury version of the bestselling Ford Explorer. The Explorer is the company’s flagship product, with 6,126 units sold in the country last year.

In 2021 Ford will be releasing three more SUVs — the Expedition, the Lincoln Navigator and the Bronco.

“Our strength is our heritage of capability, and in SUVs and pickups, there’s not another brand that does that as well, in my opinion,” said Jeffrey, who was appointed to lead the Korean unit in March last year.

“And we are going to show that off through our products and their capability, and get as many people in to experience (them).”

The Bronco, expected to land here around the end of this year, is an exciting new addition that has been completely renewed since it was last offered 25 years ago, the chief said. Unveiled globally in July, the classic SUV is expected to take the off-road segment by storm, having racked up 190,000 preorders in the US.

“In our internal meetings, Jim Farley said that there have to be products that people cannot live without, and Bronco would be a classic example for that for now,” Jeffrey said, quoting the chief executive of the Ford Motor Company.

“People are just lining up to get the vehicle, because they feel like (owning the car) is such an expression of who they are, and (the car is) so capable, that they have to have it.”

As for pickup trucks, Ford will push the boundaries to lead growth of the segment here.

The company will be introducing two such vehicles, the Ranger Raptor and the Ranger Wildtrak, whose size and capabilities best suit local market needs, the Australian chief said.

Jeffrey, who prior to coming here worked at Ford’s branches in Shanghai and in Chennai, India, described Korea as a “mature” automotive market with discerning consumers.

“Local companies have driven a lot of innovation and expectation in customers,” he said in reference to the dominant local brands Hyundai and Kia. “There is still room for development, but it is much more mature than India and China, where I have been.”

He also pointed out that the luxury segment is much larger than in other markets he has experienced, giving the example of Mercedes-Benz, a German automaker that holds twice the market share here as it does in the US.

On the development of electric vehicles and autonomous driving technology, Jeffrey reiterated the company’s proposition to invest $11.5 billion in electric vehicles and $1 billion in self-driving cars.

“We have started with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in Korea in 2020, we have had great reception to that, and we will continue to grow with that and bring Ford EVs when the market’s ready for it,” Jeffrey said.

Ford Korea released the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle versions of the Lincoln Aviator and the Ford Explorer in 2020.

With the number of models set to increase by 20 percent, the director expressed a positive outlook for this year’s sales.

A large part of his career has been focused on the customer experience, Jeffrey said, and his goal is to earn the respect and trust of customers.

“I love to see us as American vehicle of choice, over time we can own the right or claim that spot,” Jeffrey said.

“That doesn’t happen overnight, but we are very successful in other parts of the world, and no reason we cannot be more successful than we are here.”