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Ford Europe Hopes Russia Spat Won’t Hamper Business.

At Least Ford Doesn’t Export Cars From Former Soviet Union.

GENEVA, Switzerland – Ford of Europe, which has factories in Russia, hopes business there won’t be jeopardized by the spat between Russia and Ukraine.

In an interview at the Geneva car show, Ford of Europe’s chief operating officer Barb Samardzich said its factory in St Petersburg makes small Focus and medium-sized Mondeo saloons with its 50-50 joint partner Sollers, for sale in Russia. The venture also makes other vehicles from imported parts.

Samardzich, in Geneva for the launch of the revamped Ford Focus, said Europe’s car market is improving slightly, but doesn’t expect a return to pre-recession levels for some time yet.

The new Focus is centred on added connectivity and the watchword is “intuitive”.

Ford is watching Russia/Ukraine developments.

“Obviously we are hoping for a peaceful resolution. Our business – we have a great partner in Russia with Sollers. Our plant in St Petersburg is doing Focus and Mondeo. We are watching what is happening on the political front and look for a positive solution,” she said.

“We don’t export from Russia; we import knock down kits where you build up parts to build a vehicle, and fully integrated manufacturing. We’ve been in this joint venture for four years.

Turning to the European car market, which has seen a six-year slide in sales, she said sales are slowly recovering.

Recovering gradually
“I think we are building gradually towards recovery, but recovery none the less. The latest figures look hopeful. As for getting back to pre-recession sales, you could debate whether you are actually ever going to get back there.  Things have changed. A lot of young people have lost interest in buying a car, they don’t feel aspirational about cars any more. Also you have a lot more regulations for fuel consumption and rules restricting moving into cities, and car sharing opportunities that weren’t around before the recession. There’s a difference in societal behaviour and it is going be hard to get back to (pre-recession levels) in Europe,” Samardzich said.

“Connectivity is absolutely the centre of the improvements to the Focus. We want a car that is just as connected with people’s devices as in the home,” she said.

Ford Europe unveiled a face-lifted version of its Focus at the show.

The new Focus has the latest corporate grille, smarter headlights and fenders, and the smart-phone connected Sync2 system with an 8-inch screen. It has new engines too, with a 1.5 liter, 150 hp gasoline engine and a new diesel of the same size and 120 hp. There’s also a 1.0 liter gas engine which will achieve around a claimed 66.1 mpg. Technology goodies include computerized parking, and automatic braking to cut down on slow-speed shunts.

Focus key
The Focus is a key model for Ford Europe, accounting for more than 20 per cent of sales.

Ford sold 856,900 vehicles in Western Europe last year, down 3.5 per cent on the previous year in a market that declined 1.9 per cent, according to Automotive Industry Data.

“We want this new connected Focus to proved intuitive technology to car buyers. If you have to open the user manual, we’ve failed,” Samardzich said.

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