Get ready for the Great Escape… Ford’s Escape, that is. Ford Malaysia (AMIM Holdings Sdn Bhd) today announced that the latest 4WD Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is to be assembled in Malaysia at the AMI plant in Shah Alam, Selangor, for introduction next year. The model – also sold as the Ford Maverick in Europe – goes on sale in North America next month.
Revealing the new, Ford Malaysia Managing Director Richard Canny said the planning for local assembly of the Escape is in the advanced stages for an introduction in 2001 (read that as ‘confirmed’). “If all goes well, Malaysia will be the first ASEAN market for the Escape,” he added.
Mr Canny said that Ford was also considering making Malaysia the ASEAN regional source for the Escape. “This however, depends on how soon Malaysia implements the tariff reductions in the automotive sector under AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Agreement).” The tariff reductions would allow Ford Malaysia to export the Escape to other ASEAN countries without being subject to import duties in that country – the strong feature of AFTA which has many manufacturers establishing regional production facilities.
The Escape, Mr Canny said, was identified for Malaysia as the local 4WD market was a ‘high growth segment’. Until duties on such vehicles were raised in 1997, demand was very strong. While there have been large 4WDs assembled locally for many years, it is only in the 1990s that the new generation of small 4WDs has appeared. To date, only the Honda CR-V is being assembled locally (the 8-year old Suzuki Vitara isn’t representative of the new generation of small 4WDs). Toyota has not indicated that it plans to assemble the new RAV4 here and has in fact stated that it has no plans for assembly in Thailand either.
So the optimism expressed by Mr Canny that ‘the Escape will be the top seller in its segment in Malaysia’ appears well founded. He said that the Escape would appeal to a wide variety of consumers. “This includes those who have not owned an SUV before, but whose life’s activities now require the space and versatility that an SUV provides. Those people might not consider a larger SUV, but the Escape will provide them with the perfect solution.”
The Ford Escape is available with 3.0-litre V6 or 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engines but Mr Canny revealed that for the Malaysian market, the 2.0-litre engine would be the obvious choice and taking note of consumer preferences for automatics, an automatic transmission will be offered.
The Escape sits on an all-new platform and will be ultimately be sold in 150 markets world-wide. The model – badged as the Ford Maverick in Europe – goes on sale in North America next month. Mazda, part of the Ford Group, also offers a technically version known as the Tribute.
“This is the first time Ford has had a smaller SUV specifically designed for both North American and global consumers. Over 22,000 orders have already been accepted for the Escape in North America,” he added.
At this time, Ford Malaysia is not able to say how much the Escape will cost. “There’s still some time to go so we don’t think it is appropriate to indicate the price right now,” Mr Canny said.
Quite likely, Ford Malaysia would be looking at consumer response to the price of the Honda CR-V and the various issues relating to its pricing strategy in order to come up with a pricetag that will be competitive. RM145,000 on-the-road seems like a possible level although this will depend on the strength of the ringgit against the yen. Don’t expect any breaks from the government, though, as MAA president Aishah Ahmad told AUTOWORLD.COM.MY that there are no indications that duties for any segment of vehicles will come down when the next Budget is announced.