Not even two years since its European launch, Ford have got the magic markers out on the KA+. What can it all mean?
“The KA+ was introduced for customers in Europe as a spacious, well-equipped and value-for-money small car that offers excellent fuel-efficiency and fun-to-drive dynamics at an affordable price”. You have been reading the words of Ford’s press department before you write in to complain. A ‘Fiesta Minus’ with ‘milquetoast styling’ is what Driven to Write had to say on the matter in 2016.
Introduced into the European market at the end of 2016, Ford have delivered just over 51,000 KA+’s last year to buyers for whom style has either ceased to matter or simply never much figured in their lives in the first place.
Pitched at B-sector vehicles such as the Opel karl, VW Up and Fiat Panda, but also more budget fare such as Dacia’s Sandero, Ford’s repurposed Brazilian offering has more or less pegged the previous generation KA sales-wise, (at least before that model fell off a metaphorical cliff). A success then? Define successful. By way of context, Dacia managed to sell 194,996 of their freshly minted Sanderos over the same period. Not a roaring success then.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind the break even point on something as inexpensively developed as this wouldn’t be colossal, so it’s likely Ford aren’t massively out of pocket on this one. Nevertheless, there’s clearly some dissatisfaction with MoreKA’s performance, after all, why so hasty with the crayons?
Externally, a reshaped grille, and larger, more swept back headlamps, combined with restyled bumpers front and rear are Merkenich’s major contribution to MoreKA’s ‘assertive new look’. Even more assertive however is the new Active which is raised 23 mm and features the mandatory rocker and wheel-arch cladding, roof rails, active-embossed scuff plates; not to mention all-weather mats for both cabin and cargo area to protect the interior from ‘active lifestyles’.
Amongst the changes to the car are technologies hitherto the preserve of more upmarket Fords, which include a new info / entertainment system, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlamps. The cabin too has been given a cosmetic makeover. Also new to the model is the three cylinder 1.2 litre Ti-VCT petrol engine, while a diesel option is also being made available, in Ford’s 95 PS 1.5-litre TDCi unit.
Ford have also made much of the effort they’ve put into to bringing MoreKA up to class standards, its chassis incorporating “a unique front sub-frame, and suspension components including springs, dampers, and rear torsion beam axle optimised for Europe’s roads.” According to Ford, “nearly 50 % of the body is made from high-strength steels, including the floor, front and rear chassis rails, window pillars, front bumper beam and passenger door beams.”
Yet despite all this clearly quite thorough work on behalf of Ford’s engineers, one is presented with a vehicle which still lacks conviction. If anything, it resembles; in overall silhouette, in market position and in perception, the Tata Indica-based CityRover of 2003. This thinly veiled Indian B-segment offering was a potent symbol of how desperate matters had become at MG Rover as they entered their final death throes.
MG Rover rather self-effacingly informed journalists it wasn’t expecting the CityRover to be seen as a class leader, and with just over 9,000 examples sold from 2003 to 2006, it didn’t prove a sales leader either. In 2003, Autocar’s Chris Harris spoke of a car which he found surprisingly well honed for UK conditions, but facing an uphill struggle against more sophisticated, yet no more expensive rivals.
Ford faces similar problems. MoreKA isn’t a bad effort. It’s essentially competent and even the unloved visuals are anodyne rather than offensive. No, it’s Ford’s rivals which are at issue here. There are too many of them and what they’re offering is (for the most part) more sophisticated, more desirable, and better realised.
It’s difficult to fully grasp what Ford hope to achieve with this model. They’ve clearly surmised that the likely sales wouldn’t be anywhere near the class leaders, given MoreKA’s background and function over form style, yet it’s difficult to believe they can be satisfied with volumes that barely match those of its unloved predecessor.
This week’s rather sudden facelift, some 18 months into its European sales career may well do for now, but if Ford are committed to refreshing it every two years, surely the cost benefits from leveraging their emerging market fare starts looking somewhat tenuous?
So which is it Henry? A cheap and cheerful sub-Fiesta for people who aren’t interested in up to the minute style, or a serious stab at a class-competitive subcompact? Because right now, More is looking an awful lot like less.
European sales data: carsalesbase.com
22 thoughts on “Ford Gives You More”
I’m rather amused by the mixed messages the SuperKA’s (re-)styling sends out.
The regular car still wears its badge on the bonnet, ever so proudly, ’cause badge-on-metal can only mean, as we all know, one thing: ‘premium’. That Aston grille came about for a reason, after all.
Yet the new TuffSuperKA sees the blue oval return to its more humble roots, which can be found on the grille.
What we are dealing with here is therefore a cheap supermini with premium pretensions and a tiny wannabe-SUV that’s unquestionably a Vehicle, possibly features Utility, but doesn’t exactly exude any sense of Sportiness.
Was there ever a car company that alternated between brilliance, occasional radicalism and mediocrity/conservatism more than Ford? In the former category: the Sierra, the 1985 Granada (Scorpio), the original Ka and Focus, the 2008 Fiesta et al. In the latter: the 1990 Escort, the 2011 Focus, the KA+ etc.
I’ve been pondering whether the current range is worse than Ford’s late 1980s/early 1990s design doldrums, when they decided all their cars should have the same family look. At least they turned it around afterwards with their streak of brilliant “New Edge” cars.
I don’t even understand the current European model range, which seems to have been infiltrated by cars from North America: the Mustang and the Edge (I don’t actually know the provenance of the Edge, but it looks vulgar enough to be an American SUV to my eyes). I guess that’s what folk want nowadays.
I always felt with the original Ka Ford had said: “Well, you just wanted a car, so here’s one.” It was different yet unpretentious, and its distinctive rear lamps brought a smile. And Ford’s considerable reputation leant heavily on the success of the Focus.
Now I just see an “Anycar” where even the Aston grille has somehow lost its identity. A StreetKa named Dire.
Does a 208 cost much more?
Finally, I’m puzzled about “optimised for Europe’s roads”. I realise that they sell better in India and S America, but is there such a huge difference — potholes, speed humps etc are surely ubiquitous?
Optimised for Europe´s roads is a pretty weak claim: they are so different from north to south and east to west. Ireland and the UK have propery dire roads so higher profile tyres should be the norm. France has its smooth surfaces but undulating substructure. Germany´s roads allow higher speeds and lower profiles are more practical should you want them. I imagine Spain and Italy have their own conditions. One size would not fit all.
“Optimized for Europe’s roads” usualy means: no American wobbling, no 3rd world jacked up stance, just hard and ‘sporty’. This should fit all possible European road surfaces equally badly.
Yet, Simon, they do have a “jacked-up” version:
“the new Active which is raised 23 mm and features the mandatory rocker and wheel-arch cladding, roof rails, active-embossed scuff plates” etc. So, with a bit of luck, you might still get Focus-sharp steering. Who knows?
Conceptually there are similarities to the City Rover but I think this article is rather harsh on the Ka.
It is in no way a stylish car, but there is something refreshing in its basic premise – maximum space for minimum cash. I assume the facelift is part of a global refresh… as you say, it was on sale in certain markets a couple of years before it made it to Europe, so it’s not that hasty a revision. Ford has finally expunged its ‘Nokia era’ dashboards, which is positive.
Ford can be inconsistent though, it is true, and loyal owners of the original Ka may well be confused by this model.
Incidentally, I have some experience of the last Ford Escort. I drove a 1991 model year version, and it is by some distance the worst car I have ever driven. The 1994 facelift was a huge improvement (and practically a new car: stiffer shell, new engines, revised chassis, new cabin). Ford has come a long way since then.
The worst car I can remember being driven in was the penultimate Escort. It was simply dire from every angle. The second worst car was a Volvo 340. I also drove a Corsa B – while not quite terrible it felt heavy and inert. The Corsa D on the other hand worked just fine. I wonder what the C is like….
I’ll venture that Ford’s current line up is the weakest and most disjointed since the pre-RPJ era. Ford has defaulted to the ‘just about good enough for an non-discerning buyer’ level. I repeat that the incoming Focus look like it will only confirm that suspicion.
On another point, I think that both the EcoSport and the Ka+ are Indian-developed products which have been put live because they represent convenient range-pluggers and Ford knows that they are not good enough to endure in the long term. Hence, they they required frequent facelifts which include quite significant engineering changes (which must be quite expensive. The problem with this approach is that the public has its perceptions of the model set by the inferior launch car and the upgrades face an uphill battle to overcome these. The EcoSport is now on its third or possibly fourth significant facelift in relatively short lifespan. Last time I was informed, the EcoSport sells better across Europe than I had first suspected, but that was at a time when there was a lot less competition. The current Kuga is also on its third significant facelift … This tells a story … Ford is getting it very wrong in Europe.
Finally, I think even the least well informed member of the public can tell that the ‘all-new’ Fiesta is just a heavy facelift: as such I doubt it will be able to maintain momentum over the same lifespan as its predecessor. It’s biggest problem is that it feels cramped inside against the Fabia/ Polo/ Ibiza.
I’m seeing quite a lot of the new Fiesta on the roads in the UK now. It looks pretty good in silver, but agree it’s not going to have the legs of the Mk7. The magazine review consensus seems to be that the Ibiza is the class leader now, although that was before the new Polo came out.
Let´s cut Ford some slack for a moment: is it possible that despite fielding good products in the New Edge era and thereafter it has not resulted in enough revenue to offer the kind of products we expect of them? And given this Ford managers are trying to make do with less? There´s no doubt the current range is fragementary or patchy. And I don´t see any one of their cars as being particularly super with the exception of the Fiesta which is as good as supermini can be. I don´t think any of them are all that bad. I think that imposing a US design on Europe is not going go down all that well. However, I´d be very confident that the top floor in Merkenich are aware of all this.
I was talking to a Ford dealer representative in Ireland recently, who expressed some dismay at what the Blue Oval was offering now and also the glacial pace of new product. Needless to say, MoreKA is not and will not be a big seller here. (Its predecessors weren’t either)
The Fiesta was and the new model is (somewhat inexplicably) not selling in anything like the numbers of yore. The Focus is waning and the Mondeo, while selling steadily, is too big for a lot of Irish customers now. Ditto the Edge SUV, which is not only too big for most European countries, but quite expensive for what it offers. I’ve yet to see one on Irish roads.
Speaking of the latest Fiesta, while it is clearly a comprehensive reskin rather than an all-new car, it’s a decently executed car and at least looks convincing – a damn sight more than the woeful Corsa. Speaking too of the B-sector, I had a good look at a new Polo the other day and while its styling is massively over-wrought, it’s a very impressive product. Rest assured, it will sell.
By the way, am I alone in seeing a hint of Mini in MoreKA’s new grille treatment?
Good spot about that grille.
Just like the Corsa, the new Fiesta is clearly a heavy reworking of the previous generation model. At least Ford enjoyed the advantage of starting with a model that was dynamically excellent, unlike GM. That said, 90% of prospective customers will hardly notice, so the new design is likely to date quickly.
I saw my first new Polo on the street in Tenerife last week, parked next to my hire car, a previous generation model, so had the opportunity to compare both. IMHO, the old model is restrained and elegant, with a strong shoulder line implying solidity. By comparison, the new one looks fussy and overwrought (to use Eóin’s very apt descriptor) with a weak and saggy belt line. This is caused, I think, by the fact that there is a vertical upstand of metal between the belt line and bottom of the DLO. (I hope that description makes sense.) Whatever the technical advances of the new model, the design is a backward step. Shame.
The current Ka is a fudge, but represented low hanging fruit. How this and the Ecosport were allowed to sneak out of Brazil without prior finessing from central Ford styling, I could not say. The facelift of the Ecosport is considerably more successful than the Ka, however.
Ford has lost its way. The Alan Mullaly years may have returned the company to profitability, but in emphasising costs, Ford have clearly forgotten how to build desireable cars. The inevitable result is retrenchment.
In America, rumo(u)r is that Ford are soon to abandon the Fusion segment, likely meaning the end of the Mondeo too. The outgoing Focus is a flaccid nowhere car, and the new Focus already looks half arsed. As good as the underlying chassis is, the styling of the new Fiesta is not as great a step forward as buyers demand. In a growing market, their CUVs are also rans; not bad, but not flash enough inside either. The only car they offer with any sort of panache is the Mustang, and that is a niche vehicle.
As the car has lost its primacy as a cultural trope, so has Ford. In the meantime, Ford sells truck after truck after truck. The success of the F150 brings a gravity to Ford that has buckled and warped the whole company. Plainly put, without the F150, the company that did more than any other to popularise the car as a means of mass transportation would now be dead.
Chris! You’re back!!! It seems ages (or is it me) … so we’re pleased to hear from you again.
Chris! You’re back! (or have I just had a blind spot for your contributions recently?). We missed your witty and informed contributions … well I did anyway! Welcome back!
Yes, good to see you are back. We kept a seat warm!
Aww, you are both very kind. A change of employer last summer curtailed most of my activities other than working or sleeping. Fortunately things seem to be settling down now, so hopefully you will find me malingering around these parts a little more often.
It would be a huge story if Ford were to abandon the mid size sedan market in America. Surely not?
They do have a problem though, because the Mondeo is already too big for Europe. And it will seemingly never be perceived as a ‘premium’ product. How can VW and Skoda do well in this market, but Ford cannot?
Jacomo: Ford would say they have thrown everything at these cars. The last Opel chief said that the Signum offered the same content as a corresponding BMW but could not command the price. Not coincidentally both firms have American roots. I wish there was a third such firm to see if the pattern was repeated. Is it that US managemnt and values are not compatible outside the US? Or that as Ford and Opel become ever less independent they lost their ability to stay tuned to the US market. My hypethesis is that Ford and GM falsely assumed they could base EU products on vehicles planned for a N American core market. If Ford and Opel are/were to thrive they should be have been made masters of their products. Not coincidentally, it´s Fords smaller cars which do the best and these the ones handled by Merkenich. Ford might have saved a billion on developing a Euromondeo but they can kiss that sector good bye.
In a idle moment I’ll broadly categorise as ‘research’, I dug out CAR from April 1997.
The GBU verdict on the very new Ka was “It’s a Ford, it’s stunning. We can barely believe it”.
21 years on, is there any car available which could be summed up in such terms? These truly were gentler times.
It should also be noted that the price of the base Ka was £8,015, the Ka2 £8,860.
Today the UK price of a Ka+ Studio is £9,795. Nobody would call it “stunning”, but it’s bigger, more powerful, safer, better equipped, cleaner and more fuel-efficient than the original.
According to UK ONS statistics, cumulative inflation from 1997 to 2018 is 71.19%. The relative cheapness of the 2108 Ka+ compared with the 1997 Ka can’t just be explained by manufacture in Sanand, Gujarat rather than Almussafes, Valencia.
Life for carmakers is far harder than it was two decades ago.