Ranger's run - capturing success to a T?

Ranger’s remarkable dominance of the new vehicle sector continues – but is this ute now too big for Ford’s own good?

THIS time last year, the new car market was in a highly excitable state, for good reason – it was experiencing something really quite exceptional: ‘Ranger fever.’

June 2015 was when Ford’s one-tonner achieved a remarkable feat never previously attributed to a ute: With 729 units sold for that month it was not only the top selling commercial vehicle but the country’s best-selling model. Yeah, a truck outselling a car – who’d have ever picked the day?

Ford has achieved this double-whammy several times since, including for the month just gone, when Ranger upped the sales pace to an even more impressive high: 836 units secured the market and set is another Ford NZ sales record.

Agreed, June is a special month, having established firmly as the prime period for picking a new ute in particular.

That’s entirely the effect of National Field Days – seems every second farmer who mooches into the Waikato venue to check out the latest farming wares seems to end up leaving with a fresh set of ignition keys. Given that dairy payouts have been down, there was some question about whether this year’s show would trigger a sales avalanche. Clearly, there was nothing to worry about.

Ford’s success was not singular. Ranger’s nemesis, the Toyota Hilux, also had a great month, finishing just 25 units short of the Blue Oval count.

Other leading lights in the ute arena also had good results. Seems we just cannot get enough traydecks, though obviously the two top brands are far dominant than any other. The third-placed ute for the month, Holden’s Colorado, had fewer than half the sales achieved by the Ranger.

Ranger’s dominance is impressive, but pundits keep suggesting there can be too much of a good thing.

A year ago, we expressed that, come the day when Ranger support falls, it was possible Ford could be left exposed.

That situation hasn’t changed. If anything, it has worsened. Exactly a year ago, Ranger was accounting for 40 percent of Ford’s overall monthly average. A dangerous reliance? Even at its peak, the Hilux – our top selling ute for three decades until Ranger came along - never achieved above 25 percent.

Now Ranger is even dominant: Remove those 836 sales from last month’s Blue Oval total and you’re left with 642 vehicles. Some would have been vans. How many were cars?

Compare that with Toyota’s performance: It led June overall with 2666 units. Discount the Hiluxes and Toyota still sold another 1855 vehicles. Assuredly, though HiAce would have contributed significantly to that mix, this count also included a big dollop of RAV4s and Highlanders. You imagine a few hundred Corollas and Camrys making up the numbers, too.

Likewise, with Holden, third in June with 1274 units for a nine percent share, only one third of its volume was Colorado. It doesn’t have a van so, conceivably, the rest of the count comprised cars.

Look at it that way and Ranger’s dominance is perhaps both wow-worthy and also a bit frightening.

Ford’s history is marked with periods of over-reliance on a single vehicle: The Model T, at its height the world’s most popular car, was kept in production too long, and suffered when others started to put out clearly superior product. Ford was almost on its knees when it finally saw sense and came up with something better.

In May, the only Ford passenger model in the top 15 was a patently niche choice, the Mustang. Potentially, that’s a world-first for this day and age; the Pony Car doesn’t even achieve as No.1 Ford passenger choice in its home land any more. But that was a one-off. In June no Ford cars were in the top 15.

Understandably, Ford does not explain its stock levels, but you have to think there’s a good chance it has cars gathering dust.

Moreover, with the Kuga, Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo all set to update before the end of the year, it will be getting edgy. It’s best to clear out all the old stock before the new arrives. Do we scent another sale coming up?

It is also about to farewell the now terribly aged Falcon and Territory. Both cars end production in October. Mondeo seems set to be asked to stand in as a Falcon replacement, though it’s really an honorary role: Large cars do not achieve big volumes any more.

They’re less than five percent of the market. The most successful, Holden Commodore, has just a year of production left and will see out its time relying mainly on the police contract and a resurgence in interest in the performance V8 editions.

As strong as Ranger has been, there’s no likelihood of Ford giving up on selling and simply concentrating on utes – as impressive as the volumes are, industry insiders consistently suggest the returns are simply nowhere near strong enough to feed the business. Utes are potentially cheaper to build that cars – and Ranger is built in a cheaper country (Thailand) than some Ford hatches and sedans – yet conjecture is that profit margins differ depending on the grade.

It’s widely considered that high-end editions have more fat than the purely workhorse types, because latter are mainly bought by businesses that expect discounts, especially when buying in bulk. While Ranger XLT and Wildtrak have won a lot of interest as family/recreational buys, you have to wonder how many have gone onto the company account.

Slowing Ranger’s sales pace is not obviously considered, either. Perhaps that might happen naturally, when the vehicle adopts impending updates that have to surely effect the sticker prices of some, of not all, derivatives.

The XLT and Wildtrak are to adopt the Sync3 infotainment update that is set to sweep the passenger cars. Wildtrak’s refresh also delivers an active safety update that leaves it on equal pegging with the Everest Titanium. Good stuff, but hardly likely to be at no extra cost.

When all this occur? We suggest November 1 at the latest, because all new Rangers sold from that date onward will have to meet a Euro 5 emissions standard. The current one does not; the updated versions do.

If Ranger does start to slow then, ironically, it might require as its champion the vehicle that has yet to acknowledge as a starter for this country: the Edge, left, a Canadian-built five-seater sports utility that is seen as the only possible replacement for the Territory.

Territory is not a big seller, but that’s because it’s a far from new product. That doesn’t mean the category in which it competes isn’t worth sticking with. Quite the contrary.

Sports utilities are hugely important here, even moreso than utes. The latter are claiming 25 percent of new vehicle sales year to date. SUVs are sitting solidly at 35 percent. The top three passenger vehicles for June were all SUVs.

Toyota Highlander, an obvious Edge rival, was the top selling passenger model with 414 units, then the Toyota RAV4 on 396 units and the Kia Sportage on 316 units.

The Toyotas are, of course, popular rental choices and this seems to be a period of seasonal change for the major providers. The Kia, though, sells largely to private buyers, the same target market that exists for Ford’s Kuga and EcoSport. Both barely put a blip on the sales chart in June.