IT’S very hard to ignore how the Ford brand has made great strides in the Philippines in the past two to three years. In 2014 alone, sales of the brand surged by about 50 percent, which is among the highest in the domestic vehicle market.
Today, Ford Group Philippines has among the widest offerings of vehicles for the domestic car market and can boast of having the most comprehensive offering of SUVs ranging from the subcompact Ecosport to the full-sized Expedition. The all-new Ford Escape compact SUV and the newly-unveiled Everest no longer need introduction because the previous models have generated a big following in the domestic car market.
Ford also has a significant presence in the compact and subcompact car segments, with its subcompact Fiesta and the compact Focus. And when it comes to sports cars, there is no need to introduce the Mustang to Filipino sports car buyers.
With one of the most comprehensive vehicle line-up for the Philippine car market, Ford has established a momentum that can make it one of the top three automotive brands in the country in the next three to five years. And to many observers in the motoring industry, the brand’s current momentum in the Philippines can be credited to Kay Hart and her team at Ford Group Philippines.
Hart is the managing director of Ford Group Philippines since June 1, 2013
“We cannot claim that we have the widest [line-up of vehicles]. But we can claim that we have the most extensive SUV line-up in the country because we have the Ecosport to the Expedition. That’s five SUVs,” she said.
Hart added that Ford has made a lot of advancements in its products and the Mustang is also generating more followers in the Philippines.
FROM NEW ZEALAND TO THE PHILIPPINES
Hart graduated from the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business with a double major in Marketing and Management.
It was in New Zealand that she started her career with the Ford brand in 1999, where over eight years she held positions such as National Sales Manager, Marketing Programs and Communications Manager, Parts and Service Marketing Manager and Dealer Operations Manager.
Hart eventually become vice president of Marketing of Ford Thailand, where she played a central role in driving the company’s overall marketing strategy and awareness of the Ford brand.
Prior to joining Ford Group Philippines as its managing director, she was Ford Asia Pacific’s Dealer Development and Field Operations Director.
Hart joining Ford Group Philippines in June 2013 seemed very timely because at the time, the domestic car market was set to grow by leaps and bounds. In 2014 alone, almost 270,000 vehicles were sold for a 27-percent increase over 2013 figures. That 2014 figure tallies with the units sold by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (CAMPI), the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) and the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (AVID).
And in 2014, sales of Ford Group Philippines in the domestic market grew by a staggering 53.1 percent to 20,341 units compared to 2013. This sales increase of Ford in the Philippines was only second to the 59.1-percent jump registered by Chevrolet Philippines-The Covenant Car Company Inc. Sales of Chevrolet vehicles reached 8,046 units in 2014.
Overall in 2014, Ford Group Philippines ranked fourth in vehicle sales behind Toyota Motor Philippines Corp., Mitsubishi Motor Philippines Corp. and Hyundai Asia Resources Inc.
For 2015, vehicle sales in the Philippines are expected to reach about 300,000 units.
Hart said she finds the Philippines an exciting car market given its rapid growth and its “engaging” vehicle buyers.
“This is one of the fastest-growing [in Asia]and so with that it brings a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement with that amount of growth. And it’s also a great time for Ford because we have been bringing a lot of great products here. It has been a super busy two years for us,” she added.
When asked what the secret to Ford’s success in the Philippines is in the past two to three years, Hart said “It’s just making sure we get the right products to the market.”
She added Filipino car buyers are unique because of the attention they put into purchasing a vehicle and their extensive use of social media.
“Definitely [Filipinos are] one of the most passionate, they are very involved in their purchase, which is great. That also makes it great for us. They are very engaged in the [buying]process,” Hart said.
“I think the Filipino customers know what they want, they choose what they want in a car, and I think they have high expectations which is great for a car company because we always want to meet customer’s expectations,” she added.
When it comes to the use of social media, Filipino car buyers use them not only to get information but also to generate feedback on Ford’s products by sharing their experiences.
“They share with us their experiences [through social media]. And that’s one of the key differences of Filipino car buyers, their use of social media,” Hart said.
SUSTAINING THE MOMENTUM
When it comes to market preference, she noted that SUVs and pick-ups still make up the bulk of vehicle sales in the Philippines. Hart also sees that trend not changing in the next three to five years.
“I would say the trend will continue where it’s going at the moment, which is shifting to the SUV and pick-ups,” she said.
And when it comes to SUVs and pick-ups, Ford Group Philippines has a line-up that can be envied by other car firms in the country because it covers almost all types of buyers based on budget. Although the Ranger has become the brand’s biggest seller since its introduction early this year, Ford Group Philippines has five SUVs in its stable: EcoSport subcompact; all-new Escape compact; all-new Everest; Explorer (now with an Ecoboost model); and the Expedition.
But Ford’s beefing up its overall line-up outside of SUV and pick-ups cannot be ignored because the ever-popular Mustang is very much in its showrooms (only for a short while because a moneyed buyer usually snaps it up). In fact, sales of the all-new Mustang hit 52 units in May alone, which is the best sales performance of that model since it was brought back to the country by Ford Group Philippines a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the Ranger turned in its best sales performance in May with 823 units while its total five-month sales ending also in May reached 3,572 units for a 33-percent increase over the same period last year.
“Customer response to our full line-up of global Ford vehicles remains strong across the country, with the wide appeal of the Ranger and EcoSport continuing to drive our overall performance. The new Mustang has also given customers another pretty compelling reason to visit our Ford showrooms,” Hart said.
As of May this year, Ford Group Philippines recorded total sales of 8,557 units that is 19 percent higher compared to the same period last year. Ford Group Philippines is also taking bookings for the all-new Everest that the company expects will give another boost to its sales this year.
With its sales expanding significantly in the past two to three years, Ford Group Philippines plans to have a total of 40 dealerships by the end of this year. The company currently has 36 dealerships of which 10 are in Metro Manila and 26 in the provinces.
In August last year, the company unveiled the brand’s largest showroom in the Southeast Asian region – Ford Alabang. Hart helped design the Ford Alabang dealership when she was still assigned in Shanghai.
“Seeing it [Ford Alabang] open was truly amazing,” she said.
Ford Alabang has two floors of showrooms for cars that can display a total of 23 cars.
Hart said Ford Group Philippines is set to open dealerships in Ormoc, Leyte and Santa Rosa, Laguna to bring the brand closer to the provincial markets, which shows how much momentum the brand has in the country today.
She said that what the Ford Group Philippines team has to do in the next three to five years is to sustain the “huge” momentum it built during the past two to three years.
“To me, it would be continuing on the momentum that we got, the huge moment we have now. We are one of the fastest growing brands in the last two to three years,” Hart said.
What is fortunate for Ford Group Philippines is that its managing director does not have a fixed term in the country while she gives much credit to the brand’s team in the country. No wonder she also loves the Ford Group Philippines team.
“I love this team, my team, the Ford Group Philippines team, the dealers. They’re amazing,” Hart said.
‘So many beaches, so little time’
AMONG the many expats assigned to head foreign companies in the Philippines, Ford Group Philippines Managing Director Kay Hart is one of those who has fallen in love with the Philippines for its tourist destinations and culture.
“We [she and her husband]love it here, we really do. It’s a great place to live for a couple things, you’ve got an amazing country in terms of places to visit, and things to learn about. So we love learning, getting to know the culture, getting to know some of the sights, we love beaches, and you have a lot of those here. We’ve been enjoying a lot of that,” she said.
Although Hart hails from New Zealand where the weather is cool, she said she prefers the warm weather of the Philippines that makes her enjoy the beautiful beaches the country has to offer.
“I prefer the warm weather than I do the cold weather. I mean this [time of year]is very hot at the moment, but luckily there are beautiful beaches to enjoy the heat. So I don’t mind the heat,” Hart added.
When asked what are her favorite tourist destinations in the Philippines, Hart said she and her husband have been to Palawan and Bohol a number of times.
“Our favorite place is Palawan, we’ve been to Bohol a couple of times. Then we have been to Cebu and recently we went up to Ilocos Norte. We are trying to see as much as we can [in the Philippines],” she said.
“I went to Boracay while I was still in China. My favorite is the El Nido area, it’s beautiful there. I’d like to go more there,” Hart added.
There are also popular tourist spots in the Philippines that Hart and her husband want to visit, including Donsol, Sorsogon.
“I heard of Donsol where there are whale sharks..I have to see this place [Donsol]. I haven’t been there,” she said.
Currently in her second year heading Ford Philippines, Hart said that if she gets to be assigned in another country in the future, she and her husband would still visit the Philippines not only for its tourist spots but also for the friends they have made.
“Most important, I think for us, we love really the people here. The people are so hospitable and so friendly, and they love to have fun,” she added.
But like many expats and foreign tourists visiting the Philippines who have fallen in love with the country’s tourist destinations, it is the beaches that have also captured the heart of Hart.
“You have one of the best beaches in the world, so we have to come back,” she said when asked if she and her husband would visit the Philippines if she gets assigned to another country.
“So many beaches…so little time,” Hart added.