Article by Jacob Black, photo courtesy Ford

Down in Detroit, Ford unveiled their newest Ford F-150. It shared the stage with the previously unveiled Mustang; between them, they represent two of the brand’s most iconic marques. The F-150 is a sales behemoth in both the USA and Canada, so we took five minutes to discuss Canada’s relationship to One Ford, and also the role of the new F-150 as Ford moves through 2014.

Jacob Black: Firstly, can you talk to me in broad terms, about how Canada fits into One Ford?

Dianne Craig: We’ve been working our One Ford plan now since 2006, when Alan Mulally, our CEO/president of Ford Motor Company came to Ford, and we’ve had a laser focus on that plan. And Ford of Canada fits very nicely into that plan.

When you really get to the heart of it, the One Ford plan is all about listening to customers. It’s about understanding what customers want and value, then delivering the product. So when you think of it, safety is important, quality is important, fuel economy is important – obviously smart technology and great-looking vehicles are important. That’s what you have to deliver, and you have to deliver it year-in-year-out.

And so at Ford we’ve been the market leader in Canada four years running, we had a record automotive industry last year, and we’re forecasting another record year this year. So we’re really excited about the future of Ford in Canada.

How important is the F-150 going to be for Canada?

It’s really important. F-150 in Canada has been the bestselling vehicle for four years. And in the full-size pickup segment it’s been the leader for 48 years – almost five decades. So we’ve built a lot of brand equity with F-150. It’s a big part of our brand, so this launch is really, really important on many levels.

But what’s really exciting about it is we know full-size pickups and their owners. To the point I just made, it’s all about listening to the customers.

So the refinements we’ve made to the vehicle: obviously it looks great; it’s 700 pounds lighter because it’s made out of aluminum; it’s got 11 new features; we have more smart technology; two new power trains. It’s going to continue to be the leader and this is going to take us to a level we haven’t seen before.

What are the key differences between the Canadian and US market as you see them?

They’re quite significant. Until you’ve spent time in Canada you expect that they’re the same but you quickly find out that they are very different.

One, affordability is a big deal for Canadians because the tax structure is different, so here you have the C car – which is basically our Focus-size car – is the biggest market, and that’s not the case in the US.

On the other hand, full-size pickup is a big chunk of market; 17 percent of Canadians are driving full-size pickups, about 23 percent are driving C cars. So right there is a big chunk of the market, and the same with the Escape-sized vehicles – people love small SUVs. So that’s one of the biggest changes, was the size of the vehicles.

But the other big difference that we at Ford Canada are concerned about, or mindful of, is finance terms. Forty percent of customers today are opting for extended terms, which we define as 84 months or longer.

As I mentioned, the technology is changing so much and now people are locking in to contracts that are much longer than we’ve seen in the past. At Ford we’re working really hard to shorten that trade cycle. Less than 10 percent of our mix is extended term, and we’ve still maintained leadership because we want to do what’s right for the customer. Product is key, and at the end of the day it’s about that consumer experience. People love their Ford, love their Lincoln. We’re out there to build brand advocates every time we put someone into one of our cars.

You referenced “listening to customers” a couple of times, what are some of the challenges that customers have brought forward that you are hoping to address?

The industry is moving so fast. The technologies that are coming to market now versus even five years ago or 10 years ago, where you know you’re communicating so much through your vehicle.  So for us it’s all about going further for our customers, building technology that they want, that adds value.

The most important thing as a company is that we have to continue to innovate, we have to really think about what the customers want for the future that they might not know today.

You take an Escape; no one came up to us in a focus group and said “gee, I want to put my foot under the hatch and have it come up.” No one said that. That’s all about the innovation that we have to bring.

But we have to be smart about it, because driver distraction is a big thing, right? So we have to make sure that whatever we put in the vehicle is going to continue to make them safe, but also to enrich their life and their experience with the vehicle.

On that, MyFord Touch has a lot of steering wheel functions now, and some Sync features are locked out when you’re driving. Some other manufacturers have systems where passengers can operate some of the functions that are locked out for a driver, have you looked at any solutions like that?

There isn’t anything that we’re not looking at when it comes to infotainment. And it goes far beyond even applications like Sync, and being able to call up my favourite restaurant and have your map come up, but beyond that – how do cars start to talk to each other? You know, three to five years from now, to keep drivers safe because they’re not quite paying attention. It’s beyond the wonderful technologies like blind-spot detection and things like that.

It’s going to be really fun to watch where the industry goes five years from now and to see how much more technology is in your vehicle.

And lastly, looking ahead for 2014, what most excites you?

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Manufacturer’s Website:
Ford Canada

A few things. One, we came off a record year in 2013, we think we’re going to break another one in 2014. So the automotive industry is in a very healthy place, it’s a great opportunity when you’re the market leader. And also when you’re going to launch the most important vehicle in our lineup – the F-150 – and also we’re going to launch our brand new Mustang. Those are two wonderful icons in our lineup. And we’re building on our momentum from last year, new Fusion – record sales; new Escape – record sales; new Fiesta – record sales in the fourth quarter where we introduced our new 1.0L EcoBoost engine. There is so much to be excited about. It’s going to be an awesome year.

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