The Ford Mondeo is a typical fleet car – safe and sensible but maybe lacking in brand appeal.
But that’s all about to change, because from June an all-new model will go on sale and, if Ford is to be believed, it will be a car employees actually want to drive.
While it will still contribute a significant proportion to Ford’s annual volumes, the new Mondeo is being pitched in a new way. Instead of being the default car on a fleet choice list, the new model will be the desirable option.
Kevin Griffin, Ford’s director of fleet operations, said: "This is our flagship car and our presence in the upper-medium market is critical.
"We’ve had fantastic success in fleet with the Mondeo – it has been a rational and safe place to be, but we now want to get to more new customers. We’ll maintain our cost of ownership and dependability strengths, but now we will excite people and get them to say ‘I want to be seen in the Mondeo’."
One of the key drivers to meeting this aim will be a much improved level of quality – so much so that Griffin says the new Mondeo matches quality levels of premium-badged cars, and betters that of the Volkswagen Passat.
Ford knows it has to do this, as the threat from premium models in the fleet sector continues to grow. This is due to cars like the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series, which can offer affordable rental rates thanks to their wholelife cost propositions powered by strong residual values.
As well as premium models stealing sales, Mondeo and other upper-medium models are also being bitten at from below, thanks to larger lower-medium sector cars, which has led to employees downsizing their vehicles.
This has led to a decline in the upper-medium sector. In its heyday in 1997 it accounted for 25% of the UK’s total new car market – equating to nearly 550,000 cars.
But since then its share has been falling away and in 2005, the latest figures available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the sector accounted for 17% of new car sales – or 430,000 cars. Mondeo has mirrored this trend, with fleet sales falling away. In 2004, Ford sold 50,308 Mondeos in fleet but in 2006 this figure had dropped to just over 41,000 units.
Martin Ward, manufacturer relationships manager at CAP, said: "The new Mondeo is light years ahead of the old one but this is a tough market and it will have a fight on its hands. The question remains: how good does it have to be to sell? I also think that this might have been a good time for a name change."
Vauxhall has stated that its new Vectra, which will be revealed later this year, will have a new name in a bid to lift the model’s residual values.
This means the new Mondeo will have to be very good if it is to raise its standing on the used car market – CAP currently quotes the Mondeo as retaining between 22 and 27% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles.
Griffin is confident of an uplift in Mondeo RVs – helped in part by a more flexible attitude to production. The new Mondeo shares its platform and factory with the S-MAX and Galaxy people carriers and Ford will be able to switch production depending on each model’s popularity.
Griffin added: "While the S-MAX and Galaxy offer a different option, there are still a number of customers who want a more orthodox car."
The five-door hatchback will continue to be the volume seller in the range, accounting for around 70% of sales. But Ford sees real potential with the new estate, not only because it is larger and has a more flexible interior, but also because it looks more stylish than before.
The lowest in volume will be the saloon, although Ford has seen how well Volkswagen has done with its four-door Passat and is keen to target this model.
Griffin added: ‘The new Mondeo is a car people must see and drive. We have got the respect of the market for our dependability but now we will excite and delight. People will be astounded at the levels of quality and refinement in the new car.’
The recent generation of Fords – most notably Focus and Mondeo – have been great to drive, and Ford promises the new Mondeo will continue this trend.
Superior driving dynamics were a core value of the Mondeo programme from the outset, and changes over the old model include a wider track (the distance between the left and right wheels), new front and rear suspension systems and a revised steering set-up.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# As well as promising a better drive, Ford is also claiming improved levels of noise reduction, vibration and harshness.
According to its tests during development, new Mondeo is 3dB quieter across all noise level tests than the outgoing version and wind noise is, Ford claims, the lowest in class.
New Mondeo brings features normally reserved to premium marques to the volume sector. Systems available include keyless entry and start, which is combined with the current vogue for a starter button, adaptive cruise control that regulates the distance between you and the car in front, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Also on offer will be the HMI (Human Machine Interface) system seen on the S-MAX and Galaxy.
Standard on all models will be the Easyfuel system – a device which guards against either petrol or diesel mis-fuelling by only allowing the nozzle which matches the fuel of the car to be inserted into the filler neck.
We’re familiar with Ford’s ‘kinetic’ design language thanks to the introduction of the S-MAX and Galaxy people carriers, both of which brought more angular styling and a masculine feel.
New Mondeo continues this and, according to Ford, ‘is the most advanced expression of the design so far’. The shoulder line that runs through the side of the car and rises up at the rear is intended to give a more aggressive appearance, while the light units at the front and rear use special graphics to give a more premium feel to the car.
Inside, the kinetic theme continues, with a ‘cockpit’ feel to the driving position thanks to a flow-through centre console.
Ford has also sought to give the interior a more upmarket feel, so expect to see piano black inserts around the cabin and soft-touch materials. New Mondeo also features ambient lighting for the first time to help create a ‘mood’ inside.
New Mondeo will be available with a choice of nine engines – four turbodiesel and five petrol. The 2.0 TDCi diesel currently accounts for between 70 and 80% of Mondeo sales, and Ford does not envisage this changing in the new version.
The usual three bodystyles are carried over – four-door saloon, five-door hatchback and estate.
Each will be available in four trim levels – the fleet-focused Edge that replaces the LX version, Zetec and the range-topping Titanium and Ghia models.
Ghia versions will be more focused on luxury and will feature extensive use of chrome and wood in the cabin, while Titanium brings more metallic trim and sporty influences.
All new Mondeos come with the following as standard: ESP electronic stability programme, the Easyfuel capless refuelling system, follow-me-home headlights, trip computer, air-conditioning, alarm and MP3 connector.