It has been interesting to see the popularity of the new Mustang in Australia. Since the announcement from Ford to bring a right-hand drive model to Australia enthusiasts have been keen to join the waiting list.
Like many motoring enthusiasts, I have followed the Mustang’s journey to Australia after the initial announcement was made. I was looking forward to seeing the new model in the metal. Ford had established a roadshow to take a Mustang around the country, stopping at Ford dealerships. I was fortunate enough to see the car at two dealerships as it made its way around Victoria, at one regional and one metro dealership.
Disappointingly, the experience was underwhelming. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the car. It was difficult to understand why. The car, a convertible, left-hand drive Mustang, looked spectacular. It had a real presence, punters and potential buyers who came to see the car seemed to love it.
I can understand the dealership staff not being completely overawed by the event. After speaking to some salespeople, I agreed that excitement about the commission that could stretch out a couple of years is difficult to get excited about.
Regardless of the roadshow experience, the car was destined to be a success here and it has most likely exceeded many expectations. The Mustang gives Ford a genuine hero model that has the ability to get new buyers into its showrooms. Ford does have a very strong range of cars in Australia. However, none of their passenger car or SUV models currently sit in the top 20 of the sales chart. Their sales performance in recent years has been disappointing. Similar to the slide experienced by another former heavyweight of the Australian new car market, Holden. This slide has coincided with the rise of the Korean brands. Though, unlike Holden, Ford has the cars to change its fortunes.
Ford’s current range of passenger cars is impressive. Their small cars, the Fiesta and Focus, are global successes, but in terms of local sales, they can’t lay a glove on the competition provided by Mazda and Toyota. The troubles with the DCT in the previous generation Focus may hurt the future sales potential of the current model. Their medium SUV, the Kuga, is another solid offering. Unfortunately, it’s also a sales struggler in a growing segment. Essentially, Ford Australia has been unable to convert a quality line-up into sales success.
It’s difficult to identify where the blame should be directed. Perhaps it’s the dealer network letting the team down. In recent times, Ford has put some effort into improving the customer’s dealership experience. This is an important area to focus on, every interaction with a dealership needs to be a positive on. In a very competitive and ever-changing market, it is difficult to keep a customer for life. I have found over many Car Conversations, brand loyalty is a far more fickle concept than it once was.
With so much choice available, customers have no trouble moving between brands. I’ve often heard the people say, ‘it’s time for something different’. So if the brand itself can’t keep customers, perhaps repeated positive interactions with a dealership can.
The Mustang is the car that can revitalise the Ford brand in Australia. It is already bringing new buyers to the brand and if the experience with Ford is a good one, it may provide a way to get those same buyers to consider its other offerings. But are Ford looking to play the long game with the Mustang? Or is it just a fleeting trend that is unsustainable?
It came to my attention that dealerships are taking orders for Mustangs and charging prices that are well above the Ford’s recommended retail price. A quick visit to a few dealers is all it takes to confirm this. We are in a supply and demand economy and businesses are certainly allowed to make a profit, however, is this the best way to start a long term relationship?
This is a unique situation. There are not many examples where customers actively choose to pay above retail price for new cars.
Obviously some people are happy to pay overs to get into a new Mustang, however, once the shine wears off the new car purchase and the fleeting smell of fresh trim has disappeared, I would be interested to know how many of those that paid more will give the brand another chance if they need to upgrade or change segments should their circumstances change.
Maintaining a positive, long lasting relationship is a significant challenge that requires lots of things to go right. From the initial test drive, the customer experience needs to be an enjoyable one. Is a quick profit grab the best way to earn a repeat customer?
Ford is in a very perplexing situation. They have the cars to do well, and Ford’s effort to improve the dealership experience is one well worth persisting with. Dealerships need to play their part and think about the long-term customer relationship, not just cashing in on the initial purchase.
Let's start a Car Conversation, would you pay above retail price for a car? Is charging above retail price a good way to start a long-term relationship with a customer? Are you loyal to a particular brand?