From a European perspective, the news that Ford is pulling out of the Japanese and Indonesian car markets and ceasing all operations in the countries comes as a shock.
This is, after all, the company that rules the UK car market in terms of overall sales, with the Fiesta standing atop the charts each month.
But Ford’s fortunes aren’t as consistently strong the world over, despite the One Ford strategy that is streamlining and simplifying many aspects of the Blue Oval’s global business.
Ford has had a presence in Japan for more than four decades, but is reported by Reuters to have sold fewer than 5000 cars in 2015. So what’s at the heart of the withdrawal? I asked our friends at Autocar Japan for some insight.
They told me the news was greeted with surprise and disappointment when it broke late on Monday night in Japan.
What’s more, the timing of the news was either calculated or unfortunate: almost all of the Ford dealerships in Japan are closed on Tuesdays, so owners and prospective buyers cannot extract any information from them today.
Our friends in Japan tell us that Ford is not a popular brand for general drivers in the same way that it is in Europe. It is felt that Ford made a persistent strategic blunder when it came to its Japanese sales strategy: a high performance image is the first thing that comes to Japanese drivers when they think of imported cars but Ford kept on introducing general-purpose models. That meant that Ford failed to find the same kind of favour in Japan as some rivals. Renault in Japan, for example, has elevated its brand value because it introduced several Renaultsport models.
So just as Ford basks in the accolades afforded to the rip-roaring new Focus RS by the European press, it is withdrawing from a national market where such models could have boosted its image.
Japan has numerous homegrown manufacturers who deal in general-purpose models, so with the Blue Oval pinning its hopes on those, it was always going to face an uphill battle.
With thanks to Kenji Sasamoto and Tetsu Tokunaga from Autocar Japan.