It seems odd sitting here at the end of January 2022 looking at the a Top Ten list of last year’s UK bestsellers and seeing that’s not headed by a Ford model. The Vauxhall Corsa ruled the roost in 2021, with the Tesla Model 3 coming in second place, and the highest-placed Ford – the Puma – coming in eighth position. The Focus and Fiesta? Not in the Top Ten. Wow…
I reckon that this is the first time this has happened in the year-end chart since the Ford Cortina Mk3 found its feet in 1972 and really started flying out of the showrooms. Since then, the Cortina, the Escort, Focus Mk1 and Fiesta have all best UK bestsellers, sealing Ford’s hegemony at the top of the charts and maintaining its position as the nation’s favourite. So ensconced as the maker of the nation’s favourite cars, in the glory days of the late-1970s and early-’80s, the Ford Cortina regularly took up to 15% of the UK market by itself.
I remember a point in the 1980s, when Ford’s overall market share was 33% – a single-maker domination not experienced here since the formation of British Leyland in 1968, where our colossus achieved a 40% share. Moreover, considering that was with multiple marques and models, Ford’s achievement in the mid-1980s with the Fiesta, Escort, Orion, Capri, Sierra and Granada was really rather impressive.
The UK market was, of course, far less diverse back then, and company car lists often featured one manufacturer, with the concept of a user-chooser, a completely alien one. And the car market in 2021 was supremely challenged by a series of lockdowns, the after-effects of Brexit and, most importantly, the global semi-conductor shortage, which has hit Ford particularly hard. That said, the Corsa was trading blows with the Fiesta before the current situation kicked off, while the Focus was getting stuffed by the Volkswagen Golf in the medium hatchback class.
The sight of Ford languishing in the charts like this is still a sad one to see and, of course, you could say it’s reaping what it sowed. It’s not the UK powerhouse it once was, with car production long since gone and van assembly heading to Turkey with the arrival of the current-generation Transit. The Dunton Technical Centre remains, but the the imposing HQ building in Warley has been sold and is now residential housing.
So, is it over for Ford as a sales power house in the UK? When buyers shift their habits and change manufacturers, it’s usually bad news for the incumbent – once someone changes their behaviour, they’re more likely to change again. So, all those newly-installed Vauxhall Corsa owners will be less likely to buy a Ford Fiesta the next time around even if they do decide to change again. In other words, once you’ve experienced the other side, you’re unlikely to go back to your old ways.
Ford’s product line-up isn’t what it was either. The Fiesta is as good as it ever was, but the rivals have made greater strides – most notably the Vauxhall Corsa is no longer the clunker it once was. The Focus, once a commercial powerhouse, is now overshadowed by the Volkswagen Golf – and it looks like the 2022 Vauxhall Astra will make things even more difficult. The Focus gets facelifted later this year (pictured above), but will it be enough to ensure a come back? We shall see.
SUV buyers have also been proven to be less brand loyal than others – so, as they increase in popularity (they’re already sweeping aside all others), expect the market to continue to splinter and fracture. It also means we don’t get the next Ford Mondeo (pictured top and bottom) – the company has surrendered the D-segment saloon/hatch to the premium manufacturers. One wonders who would have bought it had it been sold here.
However, it isn’t all bad news for Ford. Although it has been a poor year in car sales for Uncle Henry, the Transit Custom was the best-selling van. In fact, it was the best-selling vehicle overall in 2021, with the popular medium van outselling even the Vauxhall Corsa. A sign of things to come perhaps?