Ford’s greatest hits

Tristan Young

28 Jan 2022

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After more than 40 years as the best-selling car brand in the UK, 2021 saw Ford lose its top spot. Here’s a look back at the Blue Oval’s greatest hits.

For Ford, 2020 was the last of 43 years as Britain’s best-selling car maker. A combination of the semiconductor shortages caused by covid and having the wrong sorts of cars (or more precisely, not having the right kinds of cars) to sell means that in 2021 the marque didn’t just slip to second place, but to fourth behind top placed Volkswagen, second place Audi, and third placed BMW.


However, between 1977 and 2020 the US brand knocked it out of the park, producing hit after hit.


Escort Mk2


Hitting the ground running at the start of Ford’s 43 years at the top, the second generation Escort was either the best or second best seller from its launch in 1974 all the way through its production which lasted until 1980. Indeed the mark1 Escort had sold similarly well during its run from 1967.



In the Mk2’s best year, 1976, the Escort was not only the Ford’s best-selling car, but also the UK’s best seller with an astonishing 10.7% of the new car market.


As a comparison, all of Ford’s car sales combined  in 2021 took 7% of the market and top placed VW ‘only’ accounted for 9%.


1980 saw the introduction of the Escort Mk3 and while it still sold incredibly well, almost always the UK’s best seller, the switch from rear to front-wheel drive meant some of the magic had been lost and, with the exception of some specials, such as the RS Cosworth, doesn’t hold the same place in motoring enthusiasts hearts.



Fiesta


By Ford standards, the Fiesta, launched in 1976, was a slower burn in sales terms than the Escort, ‘only’ making it into the top five UK best seller list in 1978. And even then it wasn’t until the third generation, launched in 1989 that it really took off, hitting the top three (and frequently number one) in almost every year until 2020.



While the first two generations were popular, it was the third generation that cemented its place in this listing thanks to a driving experience which was head and shoulders above its rivals. And while some rivals now offer a fun driving experience, it’s this aspect of the Fiesta that remains core to the model’s success.



Sierra


In Ford terms, the life of the Sierra wasn’t a long. On sale for just 11 years it came between the Cortina which, as a name, had been on sale for the preceding 30 years and the Mondeo which has been on sale for almost 30 years.



However, when it launched in 1982, the styling for the Sierra took the motoring world by storm. Unkindly called a jelly mould, the rounded look – different from its more conservatively designed rivals – was a hit with company car drivers. As a result the Sierra was firmly in the top five UK best sellers for its entire life.


Mondeo


Sticking with company cars, nothing more epitomises that genre than the Ford Mondeo.



First going on sale in 1993, the family car went straight to fifth spot in the sale charts with a 5% market share. Then in 1996, Tony Blair’s Labour Party coined the phrase ‘Mondeo Man’ and the model’s place in the English language was secured.


The Mondeo wasn’t just a success because of the sales might of Ford, but because like so many Ford’s since the early 1990s it was far better and more fun to drive than a car at its price point had any right to be.


The model remained in the top 10 until 2009.


Today, it’s no longer the success story it once was, but for now it’s still on sale with a slimmed-down range available.



Focus


By the mid-1990s Ford had dropped the ball when it came to the family hatchback. The final generation of the Escort was widely seen as off the pace in terms of design, driving experience and quality. The Focus, launched in 1998, answered all of those criticisms and more.



From its first full year on sale, 1999, it was the UK’s best-selling car until it was toppled from the top spot by the Fiesta in 2009. Throughout that time it typically accounted for one in every 20 cars sold.


Even after it dropped from first, it still remained a top three player until 2016.



Transit


While not strictly a car, you cannot talk about Ford’s greatest hits in the past 40 or 50 years without mentioning the Transit.



Since its launch in 1965 the Transit has been the UK’s best selling van every year and this is showing no sign of stopping.


In fact, Ford now lists its commercial vehicle sales (mostly Transits) as part of its priorities for a successful and profitable future – more so than many of its car brands.


And it’s this focus on profit, rather than sales volumes that mean Ford may not return to the top spot in the foreseeable future.



As the company states: “We’re creating a sustainable profitable Ford of Europe that enables us to better invest in the vehicles and services that our customers want, and provides a solid basis for our business and our dealers as we move into our electrified future. Given that the UK is Ford’s third largest market globally and our primary market in Europe, we are an integral part in Ford of Britain in creating that sustainable profitable European business.”





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Tristan Young

28 Jan 2022