DUBAI, UAE - It’s 110 degrees in the Dubai desert.
Fortunately I’m in a 2015 Ford Expedition and the A/C is cranked to the max. Surrounded by giant sand dunes, it’s eerily silent.
We’re 30 minutes east of downtown Dubai in a place called Bab Al Shams, which fittingly means, “doorway to the sun,” in Arabic. Ford Middle East (FME) has invited dealers from the region to test the new 2015 V6 EcoBoost Expedition. In a region where gas is about $1 a gallon, most customers in the Middle East prefer a V8 engine, and today FME is showing the power, durability and fuel efficiency EcoBoost technology provides, in one of the harshest environments on the planet.
The crackle of the walkie-talkie breaks the desert silence. “Let’s roll.”
Our small caravan of Expeditions takes off, led by a tricked out F-150 that’s clearly done several tours of duty in the desert.
“It’s a smooth ride,” says Bill Hechmi, the general manager of Almana Motors, the Ford and Lincoln importer-dealer in Qatar, who is driving our white TT-build 3.5 liter GTDI Expedition. “I like the torque,” he says, as we climb a 30 foot sand dune and careen down the right side, following the convoy. “It’s got good pickup. It’s softer, smoother, and quieter. The new interior looks great. It looks muscular on the outside.”
Bill is himself muscular, looking like he could play Vin Diesel of Arabia with a “welcome to the gun show” grip on the wheel as he negotiates the challenging terrain.
“Will it be harder to sell customers on an EcoBoost V6, instead of a V8? Yes, at first. But as soon as they get behind the wheel and feel the difference, they’ll be convinced.”
This is music to the ears of Kalyana “Shivi” Sivagnanam, director of MS&S for Ford Middle East and North Africa. “Bringing our dealer partners in early really gives them ownership and is a good opportunity to get their feedback and make adjustments before the vehicles come to market. Experiencing the capability of the new V6 EcoBoost first-hand will translate into increased take rates, even in a place pre-disposed to buy V8s.”
During the pre-event dealer briefing, Brad Akers, Ford’s new managing director for FME tells the group that even though he’s only a few weeks into the new job (coming from the Twin Cities region in the US), he knows what dealers want: great product, increased sales and profitable growth.
“We’re going to get along just fine,” they seem to say, collectively nodding in ascent.
Rob Connor, vehicle engineering chief for FNA Trucks, and Dawn Piechocki, Expedition/Navigator vehicle engineering manager give an overview up the updated 2015 Expedition before the drive starts.
Piechocki explains that more than 100 engineers have been to the region to test vehicles in harsh conditions, and he outlines dozens of updates and tweaks that the product development organization has done to make sure vehicles perform at their best in extremely hot conditions.
Connor shows an engine test graph that looks like an angry roller coaster. It graphs an engine test that calls for full-throttle acceleration spikes, followed by rapid deceleration dips, over several cycles, followed by a long period of full throttle, and then an hour idling – all in 120 degree weather, with the A/C on max. The V6 EcoBoost Expedition sailed through it like a champ.
“Tailoring vehicles to meet the needs of our very unique and extreme driving conditions has always been a challenge for us in the Middle East,” said Jim Benintende, president of the newly created Ford Middle East and Africa (MEA) business unit. “With the establishment of MEA, we now have the full power of One Ford and the global organization behind us. The company is doing more and more to provide customers across our very diverse region with vehicles they want and value, and that functionality and dependability that exceed their expectations.”
In building an all-new region, Benintende has unique opportunity to lead a startup region at a 110-year old company.
Spanning 67 countries, Ford’s Middle East and Africa region is the final frontier for global growth in the automotive industry. By 2020 the market is expected to grow by 40% to 5.5 million vehicles. Ford is putting the structure, knowhow, network and people in place to fully participate in this dynamic region. The MEA plan calls for 17 new vehicles over the next two years.
T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame) famously said he loved the desert because it was pure and clean. In many ways, MEA is a clean sheet of paper, or blank slate on which Ford is writing a very promising future for the region.
So let it be written. So let it be done. One Ford.
**Click here to see Ford Middle East Dealers Meet the 2015 GTDI Ford Expedition.