A new model launch in the highly-competitive medium-sized car market is always a significant event. When it heralds the demise of the much-loved Escort, its significance becomes even greater.
Add in adventurous some would say quirky styling, continuing the new-edge theme begun with Ford’s Ka and Puma, and the stakes rise higher.
But the importance of the new Ford Focus transcends even this. It is the first model developed under the Ford 2000 reorganisation, begun in 1995, in which responsibility for vehicle design was split up on a global basis. The Focus was designed by a 600-member team in England and Germany; it will be built worldwide. Its platform (the basic chassis/suspension set-up) will have to serve the company for many years, and form the basis for promised numerous derivatives.
‘It’s not just a new car, it’s also a new platform, and a new Ford Motor Company,’ says vehicle line director Al Kammerer. ‘The Focus will be the basis for C-segment cars globally, with future derivatives from the platform limited only by the imagination.’
Riding on its success or failure is Ford’s ambition ‘to be the most desired brand in the mass-market end of the business’, in the words of Will Boddie, vice-president of Ford’s small and medium vehicle centre.
So the reason for Ford’s decision to break with the past both in name and styling becomes clear.
What philosophy underpins the design of such an important new model? Kammerer says that Ford aimed to provide ‘an invitation to drive’, through ‘outstanding design and the biggest interior in its class’; to involve the owner ‘in the driving experience’ through ‘responsive driving dynamics, excellent ergonomics and comfort’; and by seeking to reduce the cost of ownership through fuel economy and easier repair and maintenance.
The segment in which the Focus will compete represents 30% of the European market and one in four cars sold globally. Thus the Focus must appeal to customers from all walks of life. But certain models are pitched at defined groups.
The five-door hatchback and estate are aimed at young families, with provision for three child-safety seats in the back. The more sporty three-door hatchback is tailored to young single people without children, and the four-door Ghia saloon is targeted on older people trading down from a larger car who want something smaller ‘without giving up their creature comforts’.
Tony Pixton, Focus chief programme engineer, says a common theme in the engineering development of the car was attention to detail: ‘It’s not just the concept that sets the Focus apart, but the way it is executed.’ There was much cross-fertilisation between teams working on different aspects of the design, he says. An example is the rear suspension, which is good not just for dynamics but also for refinement.
Developing platforms globally, says Pixton, means ‘we can call on worldwide expertise’. It makes possible ‘economies of scale not previously available’. A systems engineering or ‘total vehicle’ approach, meanwhile, ‘allows us to balance trade-offs and targets to meet our objectives within the cost constraints’.
Ford, then, has staked a big part of its reputation on the Focus. The extent of the car’s success will be the first outwardly-measurable test of the Ford 2000 programme.
For the customer, styling will be crucial. Once before, Ford was thought to have been too radical with a mass-market car design but eventually the market accepted the Sierra. Whether the Ka and the Puma have prepared public taste for the Focus remains to be seen.