Taking on the big boys
With the F-Max, Ford is set to make waves in the European heavy duty market, once the playground of seven European brands. The focus is on comfort and equipment, and for the moment is offered in a single version with one engine. Alongside the F-Max, Ford offers its Legacy road and building site vehicles range
The seven “sisters”, Daf, Iveco, Man, Mercedes, Renault, Scania and Volvo have now been joined by Ford. The American manufacturer makes its come back in the European heavy duty sector, and not with a product made by assembling components purchased externally, as it had been for the Transcontinental, produced until the mid-eighties, but with a "world truck" designed for Europe, Asia and Africa and largely manufactured in its own premises, including components that many competitors buy from specialized makers such as gearboxes. The new truck is called F-Max and is made in Turkey by Otosan, 41% of which is owned by Ford (another 41% is in the hands of the Turkish family Koç, Ford's partner for almost a hundred years, the rest is on the market), which took care also of the development and the long testing phase.
THE RETURN OF THE BLUE OVAL
Absent from Western Europe for more than three decades, when the Transcontinental and Cargo plants ceased production (although the Cargo and other vehicles using the same cab remained in production in Turkey and Latin America) and the British factories were absorbed by Iveco, Ford unveiled its F-Max to the public at the Hanover Show in autumn 2018 and sales begun, first in Turkey and then in some Eastern European markets. In 2019, the American brand clinched the prestigious European Truck of the Year award. At the same time, Ford launched a series of specialized heavy-duty trucks (three and four axles quarry and road versions) still using the Cargo cabs. The success has been remarkable, so much so that on the Romanian market the Company is first in the earthmoving sector. However, the 18 East European countries are only a part of Ford’s strategy. Early this year, in fact, the F-Max powered its way into Italy, Portugal and Spain and plans to cover the whole of Europe by 2022. On the other hand, the Latin American market has been abandoned, considered unable to guarantee sufficient sales volumes and margins. F-Trucks in Assago (MI) distributes Ford’s heavy duty vehicles in Italy. This is a joint venture between the Maurelli group, active in the aftermarket and spare parts, VFM, which, together with V-Rent, hires industrial vehicles, and the Storti group, owner of several dealerships; each of them with 31% of the pie. The remaining 7% is in the hands of Edoardo Gorlero, CEO of V-Rent. The sales and service network is being established, starting from a few regions in the North and Campania with the aim of completing territorial coverage by 2021. For assistance, in Italy and the rest of Europe, Ford Trucks customers can already rely on the Tip service network, a semi-trailer rental company that already covers the entire continent. Tip personnel have already been trained for diagnosis and routine maintenance operations.
LONG DISTANCE, SMALL OPTION
The F-Max focuses on the most popular version for long-distance transport: the 500 hp road tractor. At the moment the product catalogue does not include other models, although a long wheelbase and a less powerful version, with the same 12.7 litre Ecotorq engine is expected soon. Legacy models, on the other hand, come with 2, 3 and 4 axles, a 12.7 litre 420 or 480 hp and a 9 litre 330 hp. Both engines are totally "made in Ford", have single-shaft distribution and variable geometry turbines.
The F-Max gearbox for the moment is an automated 12-speed ZF Traxon, with a 16-speed manual and an automatic in the pipeline, also produced entirely by Ford. The only cabin available has a near-flat floor (the tunnel is 9 cm high), a high roof, two beds, a secondary folding bed and plenty of storage space, from drawers to the minibar that slides under the lower bed. Aesthetically, the cab and the layout of the driver's seat have a very strong family feeling with Ford light commercial vehicles and the F-Max gave an excellent impression of itself, to those who were fortunate enough to test it, on the quality of the construction, acoustic and thermal insulation of the cab and the comfort of the suspension. The chassis is designed to cope with demanding roads: the steel of the side-beams is 8 mm thick, which reflects on the weight: 8000 kg. The safety equipment is in step with the times and includes automatic emergency braking, lane control and anti-collision radar.
AFFORDABLE BUT NOT EXACTLY LOW COST
F-Max is not made to beat the competition with a very low price. It’s mid-range price positions it around fourth/ fifth place among the other seven European competitors. However, it relies on the quality of the construction, components and devices: at the price of an entry level of a premium brand you can have the Ford, complete with all the equipment you need to face long distance transport in comfort and safety. For this reason, in the search for dealers and workshops, the Italian distributor is focusing on those who already deal with premium brands, enabling them to offer an alternative to what they are already marketing without any compromise. Long-term rental will be offered through V-Rent.