Ford is hoping two distinct nameplates — the Escape and a future vehicle that’s known for now as the Baby Bronco — will help it better compete with Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet in the industry’s most competitive space.
The repositioning starts with the fourth-generation Escape, unveiled last week. Ford’s second-best-selling nameplate in 2018, behind the F-series pickup, received a redesign for the 2020 model year, featuring new powertrains and a less boxy design meant to keep Ford car owners in the fold as Ford abandons sedans.
But the Escape, whose market share has fallen as competitors have added entries to the segment, is no longer meant to cater to all buyers. Ford is targeting younger, tech-savvy city dwellers with a ride that looks like a car or wagon, but has the capability of a utility.
For those who prefer a more rugged ride, Ford plans to introduce a still-unnamed, off-road-capable crossover next year. It’s hoping the two-pronged approach will allow it to deliver vehicles that are more desirable to their respective segments than a single generic crossover that seeks to split the difference.
“The word we fear the most is the dreaded C word: being commoditized,” Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s head of product development and purchasing, said at the Escape’s reveal. “To really offset the tyranny of commoditization, we want to have a clearly differentiated point of view.”
Ford’s competitors are similarly working to diversify their crossover lineups by size and use case to fill gaps and appeal to more customers. Honda, for example, added a midsize crossover in the Passport, and aimed it at off-road thrill-seekers. Toyota offers its RAV4 in an Adventure trim, with visual touches borrowed from Jeep. Chevy’s new Blazer comes in both luxury and performance trims.
But for now, Ford is the only mainstream brand that’s aiming two distinct nameplates into the compact crossover segment.
The Escape “was instrumental in defining the small SUV market,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s North American president. “You have to design distinctive vehicles for specific customer groups.”
Ford had planned to bring a China-built crossover-like wagon called the Focus Active to the U.S. this year, but scrapped those plans because of the U.S. trade dispute with China.
The 2020 Escape will now have to be Ford’s bridge between car and crossover. The vehicle’s roofline is slightly lower than the outgoing model. It’s also wider and longer, and weighs roughly 200 pounds less.
Under the hood, customers get four choices: a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder making its North American debut; a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo; a gasoline-electric hybrid; and a plug-in hybrid with an electric range of about 30 miles.
It’s the first time since 2012 that Ford has offered a hybrid powertrain in the Escape. Ford sold more than 114,000 Escape Hybrids from 2005 to 2012, when it was edged out of the lineup by the C-Max. It was then the second-best-selling hybrid model behind the Toyota Prius.
The Escape was also once the No. 2 compact crossover in the segment, trailing only the Honda CR-V, with U.S. sales topping 300,000 for four straight years. But it has since been eclipsed by the RAV4, Chevy Equinox and Nissan Rogue.
In a segment that grew 8.6 per cent last year, Escape sales fell 12 per cent to 272,228 in 2018, placing it No. 5 among compact crossovers, with just under a 5 per cent share of the segment.
LMC Automotive predicts that the 2020 model will help Ford gain back some market share in the near term, but cautioned that new competition would likely erode those gains over time.
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