First came the Toyota Corolla, then the Honda Civic. Each has long defined the compact segment in Japan and the US, while in Europe, the Volkswagen Golf has ruled supreme in the equivalent lower medium class since the mid-1970s. Challengers have come and gone. Until now, no manufacturer has attempted to upset the status quo with the roll-out of one model to take on all competitors in all regions. In that context, Ford‘s all-new Focus, which is right now being readied for launch in two of the world’s three largest markets is the company’s most important car for decades.
Ford has of course tried to create one vehicle for this segment before. In the late 1990s, there was the first generation Focus, which, like the Escort before it, was really a car for Europe that also happened to be made – albeit in decontented and re-engineered form – in the US. Then came a new Focus in the 2000s – all-new for Europe but the car for North America was instead a revamp of the old model. Bodystyles also varied, as did engine choice, to the point where the Focus name alone was, in reality, one of only a few factors that linked North America’s coupe and sedan sold in North America with Europe’s Focus hatchbacks, wagon and convertible. All of that is about to change.
The availability of diesel engines and a wagon bodystyle in Europe will be just about the only regional differentiators for the model series in global markets.
Right now, production of the 2012 model year Focus, an all-new sedan and five-door hatchback range, is ramping up at Wayne Assembly in Michigan. Across the Atlantic, Ford’s Saarlouis factory in Germany has started building virtually the same cars for Europeans, with manufacturing plants in Louisville, Kentucky (US) and Vsevolozhsk, St Petersburg (Russia) due to begin building the new-shape models in the coming months. The Valencia plant in Spain will add electric variants from 2012. While the plug-in Focus will also be built and sold in the US, the availability of diesel engines and a wagon bodystyle in Europe will be just about the only regional differentiators for the model series in global markets.
It should be noted that while the latest Fiesta was the first model to be launched as part of the new (global) One Ford philosophy, the segment in which it competes has never been a major one in the US market. So the global success or failure of this new Focus, the idea of engineering one car, one platform, one set of powertrains for one model that will be sold in the same segment the world over, is the true test of Alan Mulally’s determination to rebuild Ford as a truly efficient vehicle manufacturer.
Segment sales leadership in all three of the world’s largest markets will soon be within Ford’s reach
After launches in the US, Canada, Mexico, the dozens of markets in Europe, Russia, Australia, South Africa and south Asia will come the most important test for the Focus and One Ford: China. As is the case in Thailand, where a second plant is being erected to build the new model, in China, an existing joint venture – in this instance with current partner Changan Auto – will be greatly expanded to build the Focus.
When the first cars at what will be the third Ford-Changan factory in the city of Chongqing roll out in 2012, segment sales leadership in all three of the world’s largest markets will be within Ford’s grasp. Rivals such as Toyota (Corolla/Auris/Matrix), General Motors (Chevrolet Cruze/Opel Astra), Honda (Civic) and Volkswagen (Golf/Jetta) will no doubt remain strong in the regions where they currently perform well. But if a global balance of sales and production is what ensures long-term success in this increasingly important segment, then Ford might well have created a new template.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Glenn Brooks is a regular contributor to AutomotiveWorld.com. A former editor and news editor for various specialist automotive titles and newswires, he now specialises in future vehicle programme research as well as OEM, production and product analysis. email@example.com
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