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Ford introduces four SUVs, new president


Ford Philippines recently staged its own fivefold comeback when it launched all-new versions of its "E-line" sport utility vehicles (SUVs) the Escape, Everest, Explorer and Expedition - to bolster its commercial vehicle (CV) line, along with introducing new president Richard Baker.

Ford's fine SUV four

Now publicly available, the new Escape, Everest, Explorer and Expedition sport unified exterior visual identities (seen particularly in the SUVs' front fascias) and reinforces (along with the new Ranger pickup and the Focus compact car) Ford's newest tagline of making every day exciting.

The Escape may be considered the Ford's SUV pack runt, yet holds its own in the entry-level SUV arena. A 2.3L Duratec DOHC (double overhead camshaft) 16-valve engine (155hp, 203 NMs of torque) now has variable valve timing for better balance between fuel efficiency and maximum performance, mated to a floor-mounted four speed automatic transmission (a/t) with drive-by-wire technology. Much like its predecessor, there is also an option of four-wheel-drive (4WD) capability with shift-on-the-fly feature.

The Everest now sports common rail diesel injection (CRDi) technology in its Ranger pickup-derived DuraTORQ 2.5L and 3.0L powerplants, with the former toting 141hp and 330 NMs of torque and the latter (mated to a four-speed a/t with 4WD) sporting 154hp and a whopping 380NMs of torque. Its interior is similar to the Ranger's in terms of aesthetics, particularly when it comes to the dashboard.

The 4.0L SOHC (single OHC) V6 E10-ready (capable of loading gasoline with 10-percent ethanol) 210 hp/344NM Explorer now comes with better creature comforts than its predecessor, with an inside look reminiscent of the previous Expedition. The driver's seat comes with 10-way power assist, with the seats retracting forward should you insert the key in the ignition and the seats moving backward when the key is released from the ignition slot. The aluminum inside door handles are at the edge of the door armrests, and the steering wheel tilts for better driver comfort. The second row offers a better Tip, Fold and Kneel feature for better access to the 50/50 split bench third row.

The flagship Expedition SUV totes a 5.4L SOHC 24-valve 300hp/495NM Triton V8, but this time it is paired with a six-speed a/t with 4WD shift-on-the-fly Control Trac for better tarmac or dirt performance. Should the Expedition experience extreme yaw, dual stage front air bags, the Safety Canopy rollover detection system, extended dual side curtain air bags and AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control prevent major damage or protect the interior from life-threatening collisions.

The Escape comes in two 2.3L a/t variants 4x2 XLS (P1.143M) and 4x4 XLT (P1.338M). The 4x2 2.5L Everest comes in manual transmission (P1.227M) and a/t (P1.282M), while the 4x4 3.0L Everest is pegged at P1.580M. The Explorer is all Eddie Bauer in trim, all in 4x2 (P2.295M) and 4x4 (P2.350M) flavors. The Expedition Eddie Bauer retails for P2.999M.

And now, the driver

Without a doubt the Ford SUV four are great, but they need a driver to make sure that the blue oval's local products get full consideration from potential customers. Enter Ford's newest president Richard Baker. Formerly president director of Ford Indonesia, he handled all Indonesian market Ford marketing, sales and service strategies. Before Ford Indonesia, he held major Ford top management (sales, marketing and service) posts in over 30 years, starting in Illinois (USA, as Lincoln and Mercury division zone manager), South Africa, Japan and Taiwan. Interestingly, as Ford South Africa national sales manager, Baker increased Ford vehicle sales by 59 percent in 2004.

With Baker's arrival, former Ford Philippines president and chief executive officer Henry Co now becomes chairman, focusing on identifying growth opportunities for the export markets while strengthening strategic stakeholder links with the business community and government. "Our business has become very complex since we started five or six years ago; we realized that if we are to sustain growth momentum as a regional player, we have to deepen our management expertise. The ASEAN free trade agreement and the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) will be in effect a few years from now, and it's my responsibility to help Ford work around these issues and extend growth opportunities long-term. Richard, on the other hand, will handle the business' day-to-day operations; he brings 30 years of marketing expertise unseen in our team, with more than half of that (experience) in the Asia-Pacific region," said Henry Co in a press conference prior to the launch of Ford's four SUVs.

Baker's appointment as Ford Philippines president is timely as Ford prepares to regain a better and more secure foothold in both passenger car and CV markets. "My job is to improve the way we do business continually and how to grow Ford and Mazda stronger locally. I'm not privy to revealing what moves will we be doing locally in the next few years, but definitely we have plans to be competitive in every market segment," said Baker in a press conference prior to the launch of Ford's four SUVs.

The lessons Baker learned from more than 15 years experience in the Asia-Pacific region will put him in good stead in making Ford throw a scare into the likes of Toyota and Mitsubishi. "Markets like Indonesia and the Philippines are very volatile; you have to be prepared in order to be competitive. And we're ready to compete," said Baker.

Mr. Baker, plus the new Escape, Everest, Explorer and Expedition, give Ford five fighting chances in the auto arena.
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