Automakers have already collaborated twice, in different contexts, but neither truly prospered. Now that Ford and VW are giving it another try, do you think it will be different?
After a few initial teaser pictures, Ford has finally revealed its latest crossover. It is named Explorer, but the company believes that there will be no mistake: it is smaller than the North American model, only electric, and will be available only in Europe. While that raises a bunch of questions, we will shift focus for now.
Ford built this SUV on the MEB platform as part of its recent joint work with Volkswagen. The automakers have been collaborating over the past few years especially when it comes to electric cars. While the fruits are yet to hit the streets, the whole venture makes us feel déjà vu. This article is going to show you why.
Ford and VW today
Let us start off easy. Joint ventures are actually common among automakers. That tool allows two or more to share the development cost of new projects, enter a new market in a strong way, simply sell more cars, or any combination of those goals. We can say that Ford and Volkswagen are pursuing the first of them.
Now, it is obvious that there is no perfect strategy. Joint ventures might also lead to internal competition, corporate disagreements, and one side thriving at the expense of the other. Like in romantic relationships, once the couple breaks up, they rarely give the ex-partner a new try. Then again, there are exceptions.
Ford and Volkswagen have become one of those exceptions. The companies partnered for the first time in 1987 in South America, then engaged in a separate joint venture in Europe in 1991. Neither of them went well, as you might have already figured, but that did not stop them from making even bigger plans now.
AutoLatina (1987 – 1995)
Things were grim for South America in the 1980s. Brazil was recovering from a military dictatorship while Argentina had lost the Falklands war. The whole region was undergoing financial struggle and that led to stagnant economy and high inflation. Definitely not the best environment for the car market to prosper.
Ford and VW decided to join forces chiefly in Brazil and Argentina, their biggest markets there. Their plan was to gradually merge their operations and become more competitive than either one could ever be on its own. VW had 51% of the shares and controlled the car division, while Ford was responsible for trucks.
The merger had high expectations because Ford was the local reference among luxury cars while VW had the lead in sportiness. Both needed to update their lines and the market was thirsty for new cars despite its troubled purchasing power. It was the first association of two strong automotive names in the region.
AutoLatina’s first years were marked by Ford cars receiving VW engines. It was an awesome start because it joined the best of both worlds. The aging Del Rey had a real chance in the local luxury market while the Escort finally became competitive in its XR3 sporty version. They received intense praise from the press.
In Argentina, dealers quickly began to sell cars of both brands. That change was helpful for the customers, because they had more options; and for the dealers, because they had more products to sell in such hard times. Things were going well, but that situation definitely did not stop the new company’s ambitions.
In 1989, the Verona arrived as an Escort sedan tailored to local tastes such as having only two doors. The surprise, however, would come in the next year: the Apollo was the first example of badge engineering in Brazil. It was meant to be a sporty and refined counterpart to its Ford sibling while using the same body.
The duo did the opposite in the next year by releasing the new Santana and giving it the Versailles sibling. However, it turns out that AutoLatina did not know how to badge-engineer. Apollo and Versailles failed in the market because they were too close to their base cars; they did not really belong in the other brand.
The last swing was the Logus and Pointer. They used the fifth Escort’s platform rather than the final car to further differentiate each brand’s cars. While that was done, indeed, the company could only go so far without making them too expensive. The Pointer had other issues besides that and lasted only two years.
As the mid-1990s approached, AutoLatina would become plagued with disagreements of all kinds. Ford’s staff claimed the company lost with the merger, some projects were vetoed to avoid internal competition, and the whole strategy was frowned upon by both headquarters. The joint venture was dissolved in 1995.
AutoEuropa (1991 – 2006)
The 1980s were also the time when the minivan segment prospered. Chrysler founded it in North America at the same time as Renault in Europe, and their models quickly dominated the market. The other makers, like Ford and VW, decided to wait and act only once the pioneers had effectively established themselves.
AutoEuropa was not a merger, but a joint factory the companies built to produce their upcoming minivan. In 1995, the market received Ford Galaxy and VW Sharan, with the SEAT Alhambra coming right after. The goal, as usual, was to join forces and build a competitive model with the best each partner could offer.
All those models would come from the new factory built in Palmela, Portugal. The two-million m² factory had an initial ownership of 50/50 and is still the largest foreign investment ever made in the country. The whole construction took four years and included an industrial park where key suppliers could operate.
It is said that this project began in 1987 as a top secret. Its original design was much boxier, which would have been aligned with the first Espace. However, the companies eventually opted for the smoother lines presented in 1995. That design proved itself much more appropriate for the minivans of the new decade.
At first, the models had little differentiation. The base style was a compromise between each one’s visual identities; they would bring them closer to their respective lines with items such as trim design and names of versions. The SEAT Alhambra went the furthest because it was targeted at a lower price range.
The combined production reached around 130,000 units per year, which was close to the plant’s capacity. While the Galaxy became a best-seller in the United Kingdom, the Alhambra became the 1997 MPV of the Year in Portugal. The trio received a facelift in 2000 that brought each company’s latest design identities.
The joint venture came to an end in 2005, when Ford sold its stake to VW. It decided to apply its own dual strategy in the next year. There would be an all-new Galaxy, packed with large size and conservative style, and the S-Max with the full sportiness of the Kinetic identity. VW and SEAT kept their vans up to 2010.
That move also ended an agreement Ford and VW had regarding North America. In essence, the Germans would not sell the Sharan there to favor the Ford Aerostar. Then again, it never made it there anyway: VW chose to badge engineer Chrysler’s minivan and release the Routan, a model that never sold well there.
The decline of the minivan segment made the plant’s volumes decrease over time. It eventually produced the Eos and the Scirocco along with the Sharan and the Alhambra’s second generation. Nowadays, those models are all discontinued; the only one still produced in Palmela is the T-Roc crossover since 2017.
Ford and VW again
The latest cooperation started with commercial vans. Badge engineering is highly common among them, so Ford went ahead and made the Tourneo Connect a redesigned version of the latest Volkswagen Caddy. Later, the deal went the other way around and showed the new Amarok based on the latest Ford Ranger.
This time, Ford’s new SUV for Europe uses the MEB platform and is closely related to the Volkswagen ID.4. While that is perfectly normal, we believe that applying the Explorer nameplate on such an urban model is pushing it too hard. The last time Ford did such a thing was in 2000, with the Sport Trac pickup version.
An interesting touch is that Ford will promote the Explorer EV with Lexie Alford. The influencer is currently the youngest person to have visited every country. She will drive the SUV around the world as a tribute to Aloha Wanderwell, who drove across 80 countries in 1922 as a five-year journey using a Ford Model T.
- 2023 Ford Explorer EV Will Be Driven Around The Globe By Young Traveler Lexie Alford – Carscoops
- This New Ford Explorer Is a Small Electric Crossover Built for Europe – Road & Track