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Moving up a gear

As Ford readies to boost its sales in Romania, Henrik Nenzen, managing director of the Ford National Sales Company, gets behind the wheel of the Romanian driving mentality. Profile by Michael Bird

May 2011 - From the Print Edition

Henrik Nenzen is preparing to discover what Romanian drivers want. So far he can see Romanians prefer petrol to diesel and have a liking for four-door cars – bucking the trend in Europe, where customers more often opt for hatchbacks. Much of this is due to the fact that the best-selling car in Romania is the four-door Renault Dacia Logan, made locally near Pitesti.
West Europeans tend to buy more larger cars and more smaller cars than Romanians, while Romanians purchase a vehicle to fit every journey between their house and anywhere else – taking the kids to the mountains or the seaside, commuting, cruising around town or picking up the dry-cleaning.
“Romanians do not buy a car just to drive in the city,” says Nenzen.
His role is to predict how this preference will change as the economy tentatively recovers and where Ford can match the consumer expectations.
In Romania, the best-selling Ford products are topped by the Fiesta, while popular models include the Focus, Transit, Mondeo and the Cougar. But this year Nenzen believes the newly launched Ford Focus will challenge the Fiesta in sales.
One sector which is small in the country is in multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) and multi-activity vehicles (MAVs), partly because Romanians have not yet been fully exposed to this category. “This is a big segment in Europe.” says Nenzen. “We think this will change in Romania. There are so many advantages from MPVs and MAVs, especially for children and families.”
Romania is now seeing a ten per cent rise in new car sales compared to last year, while Ford has a 5.6 per cent share of the market by volume. The company wants to increase this to seven per cent in 2011 and to ten per cent in the mid-term. “When the standard of living goes up, people will buy fewer low quality cars,” says Nenzen.
During the recession that hit Romania in 2009 and 2010 there was a rise in the number of imports. In 2010, Romanians bought 95,000 new passenger cars and 214,000 used vehicles. “Very few countries have such a huge import of used and such low sales of new vehicles,” says Nenzen.
But this is “now changing” according to the managing director. Part of the reason for this is the Government’s cash-for-clunkers programme Rabla – where drivers trade in their second hand car for demolition and receive a 900 Euro voucher off a new car. The new first registration tax for cars has also increased considerably, putting an addition burden on the purchasers of imported cars. “New sales are favourable,” says Nenzen. “The economy is coming back. We have got out of the crisis - Romania is not a new Greece or a new Portugal.”

Rising costs

But what is causing drivers to sweat is the rising cost of petrol. Here Nenzen is quick to promote the fuel economy qualities of the new Ford Focus, released this month in Romania. “The new Focus is 15 per cent more fuel efficient than previous model,” he says. “If a family which spends 400 RON (100 Euro) on fuel a month can save 60 RON (15 Euro), this does off-set certain fuel increases.”
There are also a bunch of new ‘intelligent’ safety measures which could assist with the woeful quality of driving in Bucharest. Without interference, the new Focus can stop at a red light, it has cameras in the front which can see a car in front or a wall and force a stop in response. When the car veers away from a lane, the steering wheel begins to vibrate, to shake awake a sleepy driver.
Ford is selling a Fiesta in Romania for 7,500 Euro with three vouchers through the Rabla programme (worth 2,700 Euro). The new Focus will trade at 16,000 Euro on the local market – but this can come down to 13,300 Euro with the full Rabla boost.

Electric dreams

At the Geneva Motor Show this year, Ford launched its battery-powered electric vehicle, which will start to be available in some models by early 2012.
“The challenge for drivers is the purchase price – it can be twice as expensive as for a normal car,” says Nenzen.
The Romanian Government – like in other EU countries – is willing to subsidise the consumer cost with 5,000 Euro if the vehicle is trading for over 20,000 Euro, but this is still not closing the production cost difference.
The main advantage for drivers is the fuel costs - the price per km for petrol as opposed to electricity is much higher.
But problems include the life-span of the battery, the length of time it takes to recharge and where, physically, residents of apartment blocks can recharge their vehicles.
Where Nenzen argues that electric cars work best is for a fleet which has to move a fixed distance, such as delivery trucks in a capital city. This way the life of the battery can be accommodated to fit the finite time the vehicles will spend on the road.
But for drivers who need to travel over 200 km in one day and find a place to stop and recharge, it is tougher. “For a travelling salesman driving around Romania or for a ski-ing vacation to Austria, it does not work so well,” he says. “The electric vehicle has a future - but it is not going to go quickly.”
He says that “over time” there will be an appetite for these cars in Romania. With the country also hosting two major car factories from Ford in Craiova and Renault Dacia in Pitesti, Romania may also need to attract ‘greener’ forms of manufacture to modernise its industrial base. Questioned as to whether electric cars could be produced in Romania, Nenzen answers: “Nothing is impossible.”

What is Ford National Sales Company Romania?

Owned by the Ford brand, the National Sales Company (NSC) took over the responsibility for marketing, sales and servicing of the vehicles in Romania from the local Tiriac Group’s Romcar in August 2010. The NSC employs 50 people directly, but has a network of 37 independent dealers, which it plans to encourage to develop to 47 by the end of the year.
So far Nenzen says the company has closed around four new dealership contracts and is still looking for dealers to become partners. A small dealership needs an investment of around two million Euro.

Who is Henrik Nenzen?

Swedish-born Henrik Nenzen previously worked as president for Ford Russia, overseeing the construction of the first foreign-owned car plant in Russia in 2002. His time in Russia saw sales of Ford rise from 1,400 at the time of his arrival to 180,000 when he left, when it became number one among the non-Russian brands.
Following an MA in marketing for Volvo at the business school in Gothenburg, Nenzen worked for most of his adult life for Ford. And, yes, he does drive a Ford. “This way, we get to know the cars much better,” he says. Currently in Bucharest, he can be seen on the streets behind the wheel of an orange-coloured Focus, while at home in Sweden he has what he calls a “super-classic” Escort from 1981.

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