Global Focus

Could Ford’s newly announced “world car” point the way forward for the automotive industry?

From the Germanic efficiency of Volkswagen, the Gallic chic of Renault and the proudly conspicuous consumption of a North American SUV, the automotive industry has long been bound up with ideas of national identity.

But with some of the biggest and most iconic brands on the planet foundering, and China officially confirmed this month as the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter of cars, the much-loved marketing notion of the car as national icon may be running out of road.

An intriguing indicator of which way the wind of automotive change is blowing is Ford’s unveiling at this week’s Detroit motor show, of what has been billed as it’s first “world car”: a new version of the Ford Focus that will be sold in Europe, the US, Africa and Asia. Arguing that global automotive tastes are converging, and that efficiency and cost-effectiveness are more universally important to today’s customers than any other factor, Ford’s chief executive Alan Mulally, believes that the move could double annual sales of the popular family car, and point the way forward for the beleaguered US automotive sector.

Homogenisation of the global car industry can, of course, only be taken so far. Ultimately, automotive brands have to differentiate to some degree to survive. But Ford’s announcement is nevertheless an interesting sign of the times and a pointer for the way the industry might shakeout in the longer term.