The forthcoming junior Ford represents the model’s biggest creative departure since the original version debuted twenty years ago. But is it really a Ka at all?
The original Ford Ka was a landmark small car. Intelligently designed, if poorly built; it sold strongly despite being saddled with an asthmatic nail of engine and a spectacularly rust-prone body. But in a sector up 10% over the first nine months of 2015, the current Ka held a less than mighty 13th position in the minicar sales table, with the Smart Forfour and Skoda Citigo nipping its heels.That means 48,368 Ka’s left the showrooms last year; figures that hardly amount to the stuff of dreams.
The incumbent Fiat 500-derived Ka hasn’t worn particularly well you see, Autoexpress describing it as; “expensive, poorly equipped and less fun to drive than other Fords”, giving it a meagre 2 stars. Carbuyer told its readers the Ka is “pricey, not that cheap to run and available with only one engine”.
The costs versus returns developing mini-cars such as these are such that most manufacturers do so either by combining with rivals as PSA/Toyota do, or spinning off multiple derivations like VW. Ford, having decided for its own reasons to go it alone this time, has opted for a world car – to be sold in Europe, Latin America and possibly China. This partially explains nu-Ka’s appearance and its availability in five door format only.
In fact it’s rumoured not be called Ka at all. Ford has abandoned the style market, the PR line being they’re targeting budget-conscious buyers who are more interested in practicality than looks. Unpicking this statement suggests they have little choice – leveraging a vehicle aimed at developing World markets will never amount to a European style statement, as only a cursory glance at nu-Ka can confirm. No wacky colourways or appliqué decals here. It is however, likely to become a fixture at a retirement hotspot near you.
Expediency is the mother of all manner of inventions, suggesting Ford believes whatever appeal nu-Ka may have for Europeans can be offset by sales in developing markets. All of which might make sense if it wasn’t for Latin America’s recent downturn, Russia’s ongoing depression and China’s increasingly bumpy landing.
Further study should also have centered around Nissan’s recent Micra experiment. Having eschewed the cost of developing a dedicated European model, the current Micra donned sackcloth and ashes; targeting customers in such diverse locations as China, Indonesia and Mexico. But Europe appears to have little appetite for World cars and with sales down more than 50%, Nissan has been forced to think again; soon to launch a new car, designed primarily for European tastes.
One Ford has its exponents but to those of a less credulous mien, it seems to be about saving its parent money. A case in point being the Ecosport CUV; a vehicle that appears to exist merely to give European dealers something to sell until something better can be dreamed up. Nu-Ka must compete for customers who remain firmly wedded to more sophisticated offerings such as Fiat’s dominant 500/Panda twins or VW’s UP! triplets. The risk is that buyers will feel they’re being patronised by an automotive superpower offering the least it can possibly get away with. Micra or masterstroke? We’ll know in about a year’s time.
Read Driven to Write’s views on the World car phenomenon here.
Sales data: Left-lane.com
Since this piece was published, 2015 sales data modified to reflect Jan-Dec figures.