As Ford readies its 2018 Euro-offerings, Driven to Write asks whether Henry’s Focus remains slightly askew?
In a Automotive News report this week, it was revealed that Ford will not unveil the new-generation Focus model at the Geneva show in March, electing to do so at a bespoke event the following month. The Ford spokesperson did not explain why this decision was taken (nor, it seems was the question asked) but it does suggest that Ford’s marketers believe they will get more of a PR uplift away from the noise and clamour of the most prestigious car show of the year.
Ford’s European outpost has not had much to smile about in 2017. Profits are down a chilling 81%, owing to a combination of factors amongst which Autonews report as jitters over the UK’s political course (Ford still has a manufacturing presence in Blighty), along with higher warranty and commodities costs (ANE didn’t elaborate on this, but it sounds brexity). What Autonews also neglected to mention was the UK’s sizeable sales downturn and what (if any) Ford’s ongoing weaknesses in its European product mix played in this.
Their most recent model offering, last year’s allegedly all-new Fiesta, does not appear to have hit the ground running. While not on sale a full year as yet, EU deliveries of 254,059 (JATO Dynamics) show a 15% drop on the previous (run-out) year. Not a stellar performance for one of Europe’s habitual top-sellers. The upcoming Focus, architecturally speaking at least, looks set to follow the Fiesta template, being in effect, a heavily revised reskin of its predecessor.
Style-wise, it seems almost certain to resemble a slightly more dynamic-looking version of the outgoing model with some stylistic and graphic elements of the Fiesta grafted on for added relevance. Prototypes have been sighted in five-door hatch, estate and three-volume saloon styles. Also like the Fiesta, it will be available in a variety of variants, with sporty ST-Line, jacked-up Active and sybaritic Vignale models being offered.
Given that the model is in run-out mode, the Focus’ sales performance has been relatively robust, with 2017 EU sales of 212,806 (JATO Dynamics) which is near as makes no difference to 2016’s figures. So while on the surface this is a decent turn out, it masks the fact that it was outsold by Opel’s newer Astra (which ought to be doing better than it is) with 216,515, by Skoda’s Octavia with 227,213 and by the perennially class-leading Golf with 482,177 delivered. Of these, only Skoda gained sales in 2017.
Whether Ford can regain a number two spot behind VW in the C-sector remains to be seen, but its ‘product offensive’ doesn’t end there. On display at Geneva will be revised versions of Ford’s other European offerings. The staggeringly dull Ka+ gets a touch of blusher as does the lacklustre EcoSport, a vehicle which seems to be in an almost constant state of refresh. This is facelift number three (at least). Still, it keeps the boys in Köln-Merkenich busy, one must assume.
This year coincidentally marks the 20th anniversary of the Focus nameplate, first affixed to a car which dazzled the industry with its eye-popping style and driver-focused (no pun intended) dynamics. Since then, despite the original Focus being both a critical and sales success, successive models have been studies in retreat – the outgoing model being perhaps the most tepid reimagining in the model’s two-decade history.
The first generation Focus sold just shy of 3 million examples in Europe over its six year lifespan. Not bad going until you realise VW shifted an additional 1.5 million Golfs over the same period. And those were good days for the Blue Oval. Ford’s inability to unseat the Golf it seems has led them to gradually adopt its iterative template. On one hand no awful crime; after all, mandating a fairly rigid ‘family look’ hasn’t done the Golf much harm.
But Ford is not Volkswagen (for better or worse), and this move carries more than a whiff of capitulation. Meanwhile, Ford’s dynamics lead has slipped as rivals caught up and Ford themselves (allegedly) watered down their offerings. But with the market broadly apathetic to the benefits of a well honed chassis, the Blue Oval’s edge in this area has become vanishingly small in the eyes of a buying public, to whom Ford have failed to communicate effectively. (Incidentally, we don’t hear much about ‘Unlearn’ these days, do we?)
In a market characterised by a growing convergence, what remains (if we leave dynamics aside), apart from design? Global design director, Moray Callum recently appointed Dutch designer, Amko Leenarts as Ford’s European styling chief. Formerly an interiors specialist, Leenarts arrived last summer on the back of a renewed commitment to the 275 staff at both Merkenich and Dunton in the UK, with Callum promising €13 million in investment.
A more fruitful commitment, it could be argued, might be to remove the shackles of constraint and stop producing tentative committee cars fated to become everyone’s second or third choice. Any positive influence Leenarts might conceivably wield is obviously too late for the upcoming Focus, but the task he faces now is how to shape Ford up before it finds itself with little choice but to ship out.
All sales figures (unless otherwise specified) – carsalesbase.com