Supersize KA

Did Ford originally have bigger plans for Ka? Evidence suggests they might.

Ford Touring Ka by Ghia. Image: carstyling.ru
Ford Turing Ka by Ghia. Image: carstyling.ru

Following ur-Ka’s launch in 1996, there was speculation that Ford had plans to expand Ka as a stand-alone sub-marque, perhaps along similar lines to General Motors in the US when they created the Saturn brand in 1990. Certainly, the manner in which Ka was introduced to the public suggested this was a Ford for people who wouldn’t normally buy Fords.
Further speculative ammunition comes in the form of this – the 1998 Turing KA concept by carrozzeria Ghia, which essentially answered the prayers of anyone who needed a five-door Ka shooting brake in their life. To be fair, it’s rather attractive and demonstrates not only that Ka’s styling cues could support a larger architecture but also that Ford did appear to have had ambitions beyond simply making a funky city car.

Ford arguably made one key error with production-Ka and that was making it a cheap car. Previously masters of personalisation, had they the foresight to initiate such a programme, in addition to a decent range of engines – (particularly a smaller capacity petrol and a diesel option) – ur-Ka could have been a far more compelling proposition. But would a five-door hatch version sold? Again, with the right engines and specs, I suspect it would. But either way, a question remains as to how much traction an entire range of Ka’s would have had in the marketplace.

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Ultimately, Ford did expand the Ka outwards, offering the Pininfarina-assembled StreetKa roadster alongside the hot-hatch SportKa model and of course the well-regarded Puma Coupé ran alongside until 2001 – a model which perhaps would have made more sense as part of the Ka family.

In all likelihood, Ford’s rather tentative, scattergun approach to ur-Ka hobbled any chances it had of spawning a wider range of cars, but this concept, if nothing else, does suggest at least one alternative reality.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Supersize KA”

  1. There is the feeling that Ford have frittered away an excellent opportunity with the Ka label. First of all, the name, though obvious, is good. Possibly your point about pitching the brand upmarket is what they should have done with Ka mark 2, in an Opel Adam sort of way. The Ghia Turing (might they not have called it the Ford Alan), though having to make some aesthetic compromises, is actually rather convincing, though I guess it would have lost the original’s go-kart feel. To me, much of Ford’s history seems to be a series of peaks and troughs. They get it so right, then piss it away – almost wilfully.

    1. I wonder if Ford’s volte-face over KA was more to do with internal politics as any marketing-led data to the contrary. Given the level of political machination that habitually takes place within large multinationals like FoMoCo, it’s tempting to imagine a change in senior personnel who took a ‘not invented here’ approach and changed course accordingly.

      On the other hand, maybe the customer data simply didn’t stack up…

    2. Internal politics are the poison in so many car companies. The lack of an overall guiding brand philosophy means that an incomer feels the need to make their mark, however negative it may be.

  2. What a great Kar!
    Maybe the better Clubman – agreed that they’d better positioned it a bit more upmarket.

  3. What a super concept. It is indeed a shame that Ford did not take the opportunity to both push slightly upmarket and spin out various options. Perhaps cold feet set in when it became apparent that the lack of under bonnet space would necessitate use of the clattery old Endura-E engine.

    1. Several have suggested the Ka should have moved upmarket. I don’t agree (politely). The Fiesta had that price range to serve. The Ka was meant to be inexpensive. A good way to sell things is to cover a broad price spectrum but overlapping needs to be carefully managed as to avoid cannibalising sales. Opel force people to choose between space and fancier trim with the Corsa/Adam pair and they have the cheaper Karl for people who want something small and simple.

    2. But the problem with inexpensive cars today, is that the profit margins are so low, they are all compromised – judging by Ka3 and the Nissan Micra, they can hardly afford to employ a stylist. The only way for Ford to do justice to the Ka concept, would have been to raise the price/profit.

    3. We have talked before about the dilemmas faced by the “squeezed middle”. I would suggest that Ford are attempting a VW-like strategy of pushing slightly up market in a bid to charge more for their products. Certainly, compare Ford’s current interiors to their last generation equivalents and the materials and finish are in a different league (the styling being a different matter, of course). Whether this will work or not is the matter of debate; recent reports suggest that Ford Europe are operating on a profit margin of 0.9%, although I doubt the VW part of the VAG colossus is making money hand over fist in the current environment.

    4. Chris: Not only would a larger powerplant fit, but was fitted. Both StreetKa and SportKa were powered by a 1.6 litre Duratec unit, which given its Fiesta underpinnings slotted in with ease. In fact there was room in there for the Zetec – S 1.7 unit that went into the (mechanically related) Puma model. So I don’t believe under bonnet space was the issue here.

      Richard: Ka was a cheap car, but the manner in which it was branded suggested something else. If Ford could have sidestepped their natural hierarchy by offering a large degree of personalisation – (as everyone does now and Ford once did very successfully) – and a wider range they could have had bigger margins to play with, which in turn could have justified a more generous specification.

      Ford’s product planning function is legendary. It appears to me they either missed a trick here or the plan was scuppered internally.

    5. Apparently installing the 1.7 Ford Puma / Racing Puma units into the mk1 Ford Ka is a very common engine swap, with the 2.0 Zetec also being a common swap for the mk4 Ford Fiesta (plus facelift).

      One idea would be for the expanded Ford Ka family to feature the regular 125 hp 1.7 Puma engine as a range-topper (along with possibly a limited-run 155 hp 1.7 Racing Ka version) rivaling other contemporary late-90s pocket rockets of the era, the mk4 Ford Fiesta meanwhile would feature a 150-170 hp 2.0 Zetec engine (for ST150 / RS variants) as in the mk1 Focus ST170 to create some distance between the Ka and Fiesta.

      Have to admit that I would have definitely bought a 5-door mk1 Ford Ka similar to the 1998 Ghia Touring concept had it reached production though wonder how its size would have compared to the then existing mk4 Ford Fiesta?

      Other fascinating Ka variants that unfortunately did not enter production include:

      – The 3-cylinder direct-injection two-stroke engine by Orbital with a 82 hp 1.2 Orbital unit being tested in a fleet of mk3 Ford Fiestas in the early-1990s, the Orbital was said to be planned for use in the Ka only for the model to end up reaching production with the old Kent / Endura-E engine.

      – The 62 hp 1315cc 3-cylinder turbo-diesel engine likely derived from the 1.8 Duratorq DLD-418, which powered the ultra-efficient 1996 Ford Ka Step-1 concept and could have potentially served as a rival to the Volkswagen Lupo 3L.

      Speaking of diesel engines, it is surprising the 55-90 hp 1.4 Duratorq TDCi that was jointly-developed by Ford/PSA never powered the Ford Ka from the early-2000s onwards given it used on the related Indian-built Ford Ikon.

  4. Hi there,

    Long-time listener, first-time caller. Delighted to find a like-minded community to hang out with here! I remember this Ka concept from when it was released, as I was intrigued by the possibility of a five-door one actually being made. That’s why I seem to remember clearly that Ford were quite adamant at the time there was no chance of this being made – it was a design study only.

    1. Stradale: Thanks for stopping by and pleased you’re enjoying the site. That’s interesting, but I’m still puzzled by why they’d go to all that trouble producing something which looks so production feasible if they had no intention of taking it any further. With my conspiracy theorist hat on, I still contend there was more to this than a bit of motor show fodder. It sounds more like justification after the fact to me. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

    2. It’s been long enough now that I forget the details, but I vaguely seem to recall there was talk about any prospective five-door Ka treading on the Fiesta’s toes. Admittedly, I’m not sure if that was Ford’s own beliefs or projection from journalists. Along the same lines, I think the 1.25 was just deemed too expensive for a car ostensibly below the Fiesta in the marketplace.

      My suspicion is that Ghia may have mocked up this project with the hope of getting management approval, but the impression I get is that Ford execs never had any interest in creating a five-door version. If Ghia was attempting to bait them, it was a misjudged effort. With that said, there may have been other factors at play too. I’m not sure what level of effective autonomy (if any) Ghia retained at this point, but bear in mind this was launched at the 1998 Turin show. This was rapidly getting towards the end of the period where Turin retained meaningful relevance on the global show circuit, but in 1998 it would have still been expected for the various carrozzeria to each debut a new concept. Doing a bit of digging, I found these quotes from the launch:

      “Ka has an extremely inspirational and thought-provoking design. You really feel a passion for Ka and want to take the concept into new territories and different roles, to build on its success. That is exactly what we have done here,” said the head of Ghia, Filippo Sapino. “There is a strong visual link to Ka – we have just allowed ourselves to explore one dimension of its character. The result is a Ka on steroids. Ford have now asked us to examine other concepts, also based on Ka, which will fulfill different needs.”

      The last line is the giveaway to me. Reading (not too far) between the lines, Ford’s response was presumably along the lines of, “That’s nice. Now, how long will it take to do up a two-seat convertible?”

    3. Thanks for the clarification Stradale. My theory appears a little shakier now. One thing I’m unclear about is exactly when carrozzeria Ghia ceased to exist as a seperate entity within the Ford empire.They were certainly operating throughout the 1990’s, but beyond that the trail goes a little cold. Sapino’s ‘Ka on steroids’ quote is a little self-effacing if you ask me. His proposal was a good deal better than that.

      Assuming then that this proposal was merely a speculative one I ask this: Donning product planner-appropriate headwear, would there conceivably have been a sound business case for a range of Ka-branded, slightly leftfield, slightly more expensive vehicles – I’m thinking ur-Ka, steroidal-Ka, SportKa, StreetKa, Puma-Ka and perhaps something in the spirit of the 1979 Fiesta Tuareg? Any thoughts?

    1. Are you confusing could and should, Richard? I too like the idea of a single car Ka, but borrowing Eoin’s product planner headgear, might I not look at Fiat and its cavalier use of 500, let alone MINI’s all size fits all approach, and think that Ford missed out on a chance? I’d rather that Ka had overstetched itself with some attempts at stylishness, rather than fizzled out with the unremarkable World Ka to come. Or is it here already? Would I notice?

    2. I suppose it depends a bit on what exactly you mean by ‘sound business case’, which is to say, it depends on how much one values purity of design integrity versus short-term profitability. Having just got back from three weeks in Italy I was slightly surprised at the number of first-gen Kas still on the road, given their well-documented propensity to rust like a Sud. I was quite impressed how well the design has stood up (whereas the guppy Fiesta looks every inch its 20 years-plus). On that basis, you could make a case that a Ka sub-brand would have pioneered the genre, ahead of the Mini and 500. On the other hand, the questionable success of those in expanding beyond the initial remit (500L; Clubman; that abortion with the baseball cap-roof) makes me think that, speaking with my design appreciation hat on, Richard has a point.

  5. Sean: should and could are in unison here. Ford shouldn’t have stretched to a five door and couldn’t. The five door is the Fiesta. And they couldn’t because the Ka needed to be cheap and simple to fill the gap created by the growing Fiesta.
    I like the Ka alot but it was a styling excercise that worked not an engineering package or naturally distinctive concept. Mess with either the package or the styling and it’s not a Ka.
    If we think of Ka as a brand it’s not the arcs and curves of the ur-model that define it but “cheap” and “really original”. In applying that formula to a range of cars you’ll find attribute two is hard to pull off every six years and over three to four models. See: Mini, TT, Twingo (maybe).

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