1. At the beginning of 2016, you announced new investments for Ford in the Craiova facility; how has this process developed so far? What are your plans in terms of investments and turnover for 2017?
In March this year, Ford has announced an additional investment at our Craiova site, of up to EUR 220 million to support the production of our new small SUV – Ford EcoSport. As mentioned by our CEO Jim Farley, back in March, we plan to start the production of this new vehicle in the next fall and this is indeed a key milestone for our operations in Romania.
And by that I’m not only referring to the fact that we’re a national manufacturer, but I believe we also have very good potential with this vehicle on our local sales, especially if you look at the continuous increase of the SUV segment not only in Europe, but also in Romania.
We generally do not share information regarding our turnover and forecasts, but it’s obvious that we will soon see the changes at the operational level inside the plant. Basically we’re at the stage where the plant is getting readier and readier to ‘accommodate’, let’s say, the production of the new EcoSport.
2. Please define Ford Romania in figures, as part of an industry which is providing more than 200,000 jobs and generating a turnover of over EUR 20 billion.
Again, I would like to concentrate not on our financial figures, but rather on some other key figures and I would start by mentioning our over EUR 1 billion invested in the state of the art technology and facility we have here in Craiova.
Due to our investment and continuous commitment to bring and ‘create’ technology in Romania, Craiova is now one of Ford’s most modern production facilities that we have and it does play a strategic and key role, at the same time, on Ford’s manufacturing footprint at the global level.
And none of these would have been or is possible without our very skilled and talented workforce that we have in Craiova. As Henry Ford used to say, people are the most important asset for our company and we’re proud to be working with almost 2,700 employees we currently have at the plant. Of course, to these we need to also add the workforce of our suppliers and their investments to support our operations.
Craiova will become the single source of supply for the EcoSport sold across Europe, excluding the Russian market and this is an important step for Craiova, as Ford sees the overall sports utility market as a major opportunity in the years ahead.
3. Ford has stated that the infrastructure and logistics are major concerns for the company. From this point of view, how would you describe the situation in Romania now?
We do believe that Craiova is the right home for our new EcoSport and because of the excellent people and operations we have here.
The decision to produce the new EcoSport in Romania also follows productive discussions with the Romanian Government on developing a positive framework to help Ford transition from its existing investment to this new opportunity and to help maintain the global competitiveness of the Ford Craiova manufacturing operations.
As you may know already, Ford has agreed with the Romanian Government that key improvements to rail and road infrastructure will be needed to support the anticipated increase in volume of components and finished vehicles coming in and out of our manufacturing facility.
We do welcome any improvements made to the key roads and rail projects and we’ll continue working with national and local government partners to ensure their timely implementation.
As part of our strong commitment and special attention we pay to this topic, we’ve hosted, in the presence of relevant Romanian authorities, a dedicated roundtable event on infrastructure and we shared on that occasion some relevant information on this topic.
As an example, the improvement of road transport by building by-pass roads in Bals and Slatina would reduce transport time by 3 hours, while the improvement of the railroad network would save 15 hours. It is important to know that the average speed on the rail section Duisburg-Curtici is of 50 km/h on a 1,560 km distance, while the average speed on the Nadlac-Craiova section is of 13 km/h on a distance of almost 450 km.
We’ve said in September that a highway network is vital for Craiova, and as far as we know, progress has been registered and I’m fully convinced that Romania could attract more investors if infrastructure conditions would improve.
4. As Ford Romania focuses mainly on the external markets, what are the challenges in your industry for 2017 in terms of consumer and business financing, especially in the context of Brexit?
Indeed, more than 95% of our current production volumes in Craiova go to exports and UK is probably our biggest ‘client’ when it comes to B-MAX sales.
However, Ford’s strategy has always been to adjust volumes to demand and that’s not only Craiova’s case, but it’s also how we operate around the world.
In regards to Brexit, what we could only say is that Ford’s priority always has been the need to maintain a stable trading environment so that we can continue building a strong and sustainably profitable business in the UK and Europe, and provide a more secure future for our nearly 14,000 direct employees in the UK. We will continue working toward this goal with key stakeholders in the UK and across the other Member States and EU institutions to ensure they understand our concerns, which mirror those of the majority of the UK and European auto industry.
5. What was truly remarkable for Ford Romania in 2016?
We had lots of great projects in 2016 and it’s difficult to have a short list, but I’ll do my best.
2016 was a great year for Ford in Romania as, on top of our Craiova announcement regarding new investments and new production opportunities, we had the chance to be launching great and iconic products, such as the Focus RS. The success we had on this long waited model has been incredible and we had to honor a much higher number of Romanian clients than expected.
We’ve continued with the launch of our largest SUV – the Ford Edge, which seems to respond very well to our sales plans and the feedback we have from our clients is absolutely great. Basically, with the Edge, Ford has a full line up of the SUV Family, with EcoSport and the new Kuga which, starting this year, is also available as a ST line version, but also as Vignale version, representing Ford’s interpretation on luxury.
This year has also been unique to us as we had to launch and position a new product from our current portfolio and that’s the KA+ which basically completes our product presence on the small segment, along with Fiesta and B-MAX. It’s remarkable how Ford managed to incorporate so much technology in a small vehicle like the KA+ and it does go hand in hand with our key target clients and, of course, these are the youngers.
And last but not least, as part of our commitment to safety driving, we managed to train almost 2,000 Romanians this year through our Ford Driving Skills for Life programme. We’re very proud of this achievement as through these free courses Ford offers around the country, we do contribute actively to the reduction of road accidents which generally happen because of the lack of experience.
We had quite a great year and I’m very proud to be working with such a dedicated team.
6. What do you expect to be truly remarkable for Ford Romania in 2017?
2017 is expected to be a remarkable year indeed, as we will start the production of the EcoSport at Craiova plant. As mentioned before, this is an important step for us and for our investment here in Romania, so Craiova is on the spot light next year with all the news coming out from there.
At the same time, it’s a very interesting year as we will be launching some of Ford’s best sellers in Europe, including the new Fiesta which is the world’s most technologically advanced small car which now offers expanded range with upscale Vignale, sporty ST-Line, stylish Titanium and Active crossover. Also, there will be some other important news, including our awarded Commercial Vehicles lineup.