Official: European Mondeo gets VIP treatment

A year and a half ago, for the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, Ford of Europe revealed its intention to once again go after buyers of entry-level luxury and premium cars. Indeed, despite its current mainstream positioning, Ford had a history of catering to executives and affluent buyers up the mid-1990s with its Granada and Scorpio full-size sedans – but left the segment when sales shrunk in favour of smaller but better-equipped vehicles.

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This 1993 Scorpio sedan was facelifted successor to the car we know as the Merkur Scorpio. It could be had with a 2.9L 24V Cosworth V6 – it made for a quick executive sedan, although not quite as much as the similar-looking Lotus Carlton.

This time though, Ford did not want to develop dedicated models or even set up a dedicated brand: Lincoln is not sold in Europe at the moment, and FoMoCo executives hinted that they would not even consider a European launch until Lincoln’s North American and Chinese operations have reached critical mass to open a new market – incidentally, Ford must also have been a little traumatized by Cadillac’s troubles on the Old Continent.

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This 2006 Cadillac BLS was a rebadged and reworked version of the Saab 9-3. Caught between its European and American heritage, it was a sales flop for a Cadillac and a cold shower for the brand’s ambitions.

Instead, it would go the way of other manufacturers and create a sub-brand to be applied to existing models in order to provide buyers with added features, upgraded materials and most importantly “VIP” services. It is indeed a much safer way to profit from the added value when the vehicle’s development has already been paid for. Searching in their trademark portfolio, Ford of Europe came up with Vignale, the name of an Italian carrozzeria which was acquired by Dearborn in 1973 along with Ghia. Interestingly enough, the Ghia nameplate was also once a luxury sub-brand used around the world on standard Fords, only to become a trim level among others and finally disappear.

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The Vignale name fell into FoMoCo’s portfolio in 1973 along with Ghia. While Ghia went on to become synonymous with upscale Fords around the world, the Vignale name remained dormant if not for this 1987 Lincoln by Vignale and the European 2004 Ford Focus Vignale.

When the Ford Mondeo Vignale was revealed, a year and a half ago, it only differed from the already well-equiped Titanium model through special badging, chrome appliques outside and premium quilted white leather inside. Back then, concierge service was mentioned and matched what Lincoln started offering on this side of the Pond: a dedicated personnal shopper who could take care of both your car problems (maintenance, repairs, loaners) and entertainment (not unlike what credit card companies offer for premium clients).

But then the launch of the Mondeo was delayed, and delayed again, and it is only now that European shoppers can enjoy the midsize sedan that has been available in North America since late 2012. Which explains why Ford is only going forward now with the production version of the Vignale, but it is very close to the concept shown back in Frankfurt: upgraded interior, new wheels and paint colours round up the characteristics. Beneath the skin, 100 additional quality checks are done by specialists on the assembly line it shares with its lesser siblings.

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But of interest is that the Concierge service has been toned down: here, no week-end planners and personnal shoppers! What’s more, Ford will not be working with a third-party hospitality service provider (unlike Mercedes-Benz, for instance): the Concierge service, which can be used 24/7 to organize maintenance on the owner’s car or locate your vehicle by GPS, will entirely be managed by 400 select dealers across Europe. In all of France for instance, only 50 dealerships will be selected by the end of next year to become “Vignale lounges”. These dedicated spaces will require the dealer to invest in special furniture and amenities, the most impressive of which is a touchscreen table for the customer to build his next Vignale Ford.

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Said dealerships will also arrange to have your car picked up at home or at work, serviced by a Ford specialist and returned to you washed, polished and waxed. It is already meant to be extended to Ford’s next-generation sporty minivan (the S-Max), and if the Vignale label picks up, Ford says it could add other services – but for a fee. The idea seems then to help dealerships increase their margins more than build a new consumer base, given Ford expects the buyer of a Vignale to already be cross-shopping a loaded Titanium. Across Continental Europe, the Vignale trim alone will command a 4,000 euro upgrade (about 5,500$) but it does not include the brand’s best infotainment system.

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It is important to keep an eye on Ford of Europe’s luxury endeavours, for a lot of them will eventually serve Lincoln customers across the world: the Concierge experience is only rolling out now in North America but is the corner stone of the brand’s recent launch in China, where customers value the VIP experience very much. Ford officials have said that the Vignal treatment and Concierge service are not meant to come to America, where Lincoln is already catering to the affluent buyer looking to trade up from a loaded Fusion Titanium.

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