Ford's Germanic appeal

What! A survey of 24,000 Europeans named Ford as the most trusted auto brand in the Old World. The poll was done by Readers Digest and flagged James Bell in a recent Intellichoice blog.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Germans overwhelmingly love and trust German cars. And the French with all their nationalistic fervor, trust and buy French-made cars. So I can’t help wondering what kind of car buyers were surveyed. My guess is that Ford’s standing in places like Eastern Europe and mediterranean countries is on the rise. Ford’s sales in Russia, for example, have been soaring lately.

Ford of Europe makes great cars, no question. In fact, they are engineered largely by Germans. But I would wager a bottle of great Reisling that German car buyers still rank German brands No. 1 — be they Volkswagens, Audis, BMWs or Mercedes. I would also bet a bottle of French champagne that French cars win hands down in France.

For several years running Audi has topped all the German consumer polls of late for “best models.” And Volkswagen group remains Europe’s dominant uber-brand, with an impressive 19.9 percent market share, double Ford’s 10.7 percent share. Ford’s market share in Europe actually slipped 0.6 percent in 2006, while VW brand cars gained 7.6 percent. Fiat and Toyota also made big gains last year.

That’s why I’m a bit puzzled by the Readers Digest poll. Maybe it’s Ford’s German-ness that stokes some of its appeal. In fact, the new 2007 Mondeo takes a fair number of exterior design and interior cues from Audi. (Check out the photo of the Mondeo above.)

James Bell surmises car buyers perceive Ford’s reliability as a cut above — but quality and reliability differences among brands have narrowed significantly over the past decade. Meanwhile, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia are making big gains as Europeans realize they deliver huge value for money.

Pollsters may well have surveyed more older Europeans whose brand images date from the last century, when quality and build among brands were more uneven. Younger car buyers know the competition on quality and price across a spectrum of brands is ferocious. Until Ford starts burning rubber in European market share, I remain skeptical about the greater meaning of such a poll.

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