Ford Korea shows signs of new vigor

By Korea Herald

CEO pledges to recapture customers with appealing fuel-efficient models

  • Published : Jun 23, 2013 - 20:38
  • Updated : Jun 23, 2013 - 20:38
Ford’s years of introducing new vehicles and marketing their fuel efficiency in Korea will finally pay off this year, said Jung Jae-hee, head of the U.S. automaker’s Korean unit.

Ford Sales and Service Korea sold 657 Ford and Lincoln brand vehicles in May, the highest monthly figure since the company was established back in 1995.

“If we continue the recent sales momentum, this year’s car sales will be strong enough to offset last year’s big investment,” Jung said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

Ford Korea last year took the risky step of pouring eight new models and marketing resources into the Korean market. But skepticism shrouded the decision that came after years of sluggish car sales.

“It was not an easy decision for the head office. But they saw the market potential,” the CEO said. 
Ford Sales and Service Korea CEO Jung Jae-hee. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“The nation’s import car market had almost doubled in the past five years, while the free trade agreement between Korea and the U.S. was expected to offer a boost.”

Adding to the Korean team’s pressure to meet the expectations was the surprise visit by Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally in August. Among Ford’s so-called “80 Export and Growth” markets, the outgoing CEO picked Korea as his only destination last year.

According to multiple sources, Mulally did not just reaffirm his commitment to the Korean market at the time, but also asked the Korean unit, especially the Korean head, to provide assurance for investment returns.

“While enhancing our dealership networks and marketing activities, we kept our focus on what really mattered, which is product, and that’s going to carry the brand at the end,” he said.

Customers started responding positively to Ford’s appealing fuel-efficient models, slowly but surely.

“Many customers still believe that U.S.-brand cars are gas guzzlers. But Ford, among others, is a market leader in downsizing,” Jung said, adding almost 90 percent of Ford cars marketed here are equipped with the carmaker’s turbocharged, direct-injection petrol engine, EcoBoost.

“Korea’s import car market is expected to grow 15 percent this year. If our growth rate exceeds the industry average, I think we could meet the sales target set by the head office,” he said, declining to further elaborate on specific figures.

In the first five months this year, Ford’s sales already jumped 49.8 percent to 2,712 vehicles from the same period last year. The best monthly sales in May were also cause for celebration for Jung, 53, one of the founding members of Ford Korea. He took the top position in 2001.

While pushing ahead with a complete overhaul of the car lineups last year, Jung also took a new responsibility as chairman of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, a business lobby for foreign car brands here.

“The import car market has seen stunning growth in recent years. But there is a deepening gap between best- and poorest-selling brands,” he said. “My mission is about seeking more balanced growth among diverse brands.”

Jung predicted German premium brands would continue to appeal to luxury customers, but made it clear that there is a growing preference for smaller, cheaper models amid high-rising gasoline prices.

“There is still enough market potential here. There is more business opportunity both for premium brands and more general brands like Ford,” he said.

By Lee Ji-yoon (