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Market trend: Respected brand positioning

Mid-market brands are under pressure as customers go upmarket to premium brands or down to economy ones. It has led to claims that companies left standing in the middle of the road will get run over.

There is an alternative explanation. What if it is the brands’ culture rather than positioning that is the problem? Marks & Spencer has been in this situation. After years of decline, it is successfully fighting back.

M&S has not changed its positioning; it has simply thought harder about what its traditional customers now want and come up with better products.

Ford is trying something similar. It does not have futile dreams of becoming the next BMW, but it thinks new products can position the brand as a respected mid-market one, rather than just the default one.

Of course, every volume carmaker has had similar ambitions for years, so what is to suggest that Ford is doing more than spouting empty marketing rhetoric?

In a word – sales. The new S-Max has got off to a flyer: within three months it was the UK’s best selling large MPV and, in September, it took 27% of the segment.

Combined with Galaxy, Ford took 41% of large MPV sales, and the split of sales between fleet and retail suggests these cars are finding homes, not forecourts.

Ford insists that about half of S-Max sales are top level versions and it is struggling to adjust production output. We had a look at the statistics to check these claims.

Ford is not exaggerating: 49% of all S-Max’s sold so far have been the Titanium version. If Ford was trying to artificially boost sales figures, it would not be with the most expensive model.

Talking to Ford dealers, it appears that customers are coming out of premium brands because they want the extra space, and regard the S-Max as something they can park on their drive without embarrassment.

Ford wants to do a similar trick with the Mondeo, which is really ambitious.

The Mondeo previewed at Paris comes from the same design philosophy as the S-Max – a style that is radical enough to encourage new customers while not scaring the existing buyers.

If the new Mondeo does arrest Ford’s decline in upper medium sales and manages to attract even a limited number of new customers, it will show that the problems for traditional brands are not insurmountable.

Get the product right, and even bland old Ford can become trendy.

Percentage of sales for top trim level 2006

Compared to the S-Max, the percentage for the top trim levels of upper-medium models is very modest. However, it is a good gauge of how upmarket a model is perceived to be. If the new Mondeo Titanium X can get close to 10% of sales, it will be a sign that the new car is fulfilling its brief.

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