Start at the End

The current KA+ is a dispiriting sight for those who appreciated the original’s daring style. Today, we consider lost causes in the form of the 2010 Start concept.

2010 Ford Start. Image Credit: carbodydesign

Presenting a plausible and attractive evolution of the Ur-KA silhouette, Start came out of Ford’s Californian design centre, allegedly as a conceptual piece of blue sky thinking. Designed by Jeff Nield under the supervision of Freeman Thomas, Start debuted at the 2010 Beijing motor show, touted as a technology trailblazer for the blue oval.

A delightfully organic, podlike shape, the stylistic homages to the original 1996 KA are abundant, especially in the shaping and treatment of the daylight openings, the soft, rounded forms and curved roofline. The nose treatment differs, being adopted to comply with the necessity for taller bonnet lines and the resultant higher beltline, but it’s all very well handled and added up to a cohesive and attractive whole, which needless to say, had ur-KA written all over it.

Having inexpensively developed the original KA from previous generation Fiesta underpinnings, this option was no longer available to them; the Fiesta by then having grown noticeably in size and sophistication – ergo cost. Expedience won the day, so two years earlier, the second generation model was announced, twinned with the Fiat 500 and built alongside at the former FSO plant in Tychy, Poland.

It’s believed that Ford (to all intents and purposes) bankrolled development of the shared platform, despite coming out of the exercise playing a decidedly second-hand fiddle. TychyKA would prove a pale shadow of the groundbreaking original, offering little to customers over better realised rivals. For the style conscious at least, the massively successful retro Fiat was the only choice at the price.

Of course, if one simply plays along with the official Ford account, it’s comparatively easy to dismiss Start as merely a kite-flying exercise to gauge public opinion on future technologies. This was certainly Ford Design doyen, (and ur-Ka stylist) Chris Svensson’s take on matters in an interview with Formtrends. In it he made much of how non-viable the concept would have been to productionise. But I fear the KA designer protests too much.

Ford Start. Image credit: automobilesreview

Yes it was first shown in 2010, but what isn’t altogether clear is when it was actually designed. Furthermore, while it’s obvious that any production version of the Start concept would have to have been watered down considerably from what we see here, there is very little (C-pillar treatment apart perhaps) which couldn’t feasibly be productionised without losing too much of the concept’s charm.

My suspicion is this was a rejected KA-the-sequel proposal, abandoned perhaps because the design they ended up adopting was more cost effective, despite being uncomfortably shrink-wrapped around a Fiat 500 body architecture and hard points. It’s also worth noting that Start’s soft formed bodystyle would also have been at odds with the Kinetic Design template by then in vogue at Köln-Merkenich.

One could craft a decent argument around the notion that TychyKA illustrated that the market rejected the KA concept. I disagree. What the market saw through was a product that failed to convince the customer. Ur-KA was a flawed car in many ways, but it had an abundance of charm and owners genuinely liked the combination of virtues it offered. TychyKA too had flaws, but little by way of compensatory personality.

It’s equally arguable that Start (as its name would suggest) offered a logical jumping off point to evolve the KA aesthetic. Clearly nobody in the car business can ignore the numbers (they’re too big for that), but building a brand entails a measure of commitment, something in lamentably short supply under Alan Mullay’s ‘lets remortgage the shirt on our backs’ tenure at Dearborn.

By failing to evolve the KA effectively, Ford saved themselves some money but ceded a large swathe of the minicar market to its European and far Eastern rivals. Market share they won’t win back with reheated leftovers. If anything, what we see here is the point in time where Ford really started to disengage with the European market, a process which has since become glaringly apparent.

Image credit: carrevsdaily

Start was appropriately named. For while it didn’t signify an ending, it may well have heralded the beginning of one.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Start at the End”

  1. I’ve seen before this claim that Ford developed the Ka mk 11 platform but surely it’s based on the Panda which was built alongside it at Tychy until the current Italian made version.

    1. Mark: I should probably have phrased that differently. The 500 is said to have used a version of the 2003 Panda platform architecture. My understanding is that Ford and Fiat inked an agreement to co-develop the 500 / TychyKA on a repurposed platform, not to mention any necessary refitting at Tychy, which (as the story goes) Henry to all intents and purposes paid for. The result being (allegedly) that our Serge’ got the 500 programme more or less for nothing. It’s possibly one of automotive’s better tall tales, but it is one that refuses to go away. And as we know, some tall tales turn out to be true.

      Mind you, if indeed it is true, it could turn out to have been the bargain of the century…

  2. It all went downhill with the Panda/500-based mk2 Ford Ka onwards, the only good things about the latter is the weight was below 1000kg, its relative dimensions and not much else. Below are the sort of Ka replacements a number of people were probably expecting.

    With the mk5 Fiesta-based platform the successors of the original Ford Ka should have evolved into a stylish city car inspired by the Ford Start concept, powered by 59-132 hp 1.25-1.6 Duratec petrols later 65-80 hp NA and 100-123 (or up to 140) hp turbo 1.0 3-cylinder Fox / Ecoboost petrols as well as 67-120 hp 1.4-1.6 diesels.

    In terms of dimensions was expecting the Ka replacements to be at most of similar size to the mk3 Suzuki Swift for a larger 3/5-door hatchback sub-1000kg city car that would still be smaller than the mk6 Ford Fiesta, though they could have made the 3-door version’s dimensions similar to the mk2 Renault Twingo.

    Notwithstanding the later 1.0 Ecoboost turbo variants, more sporting versions of the mk2 and mk3 Ford Ka would have similar old school naturally aspirated hot hatch appeal as the mk2 Renault Twingo RS133 and mk3-mk4 Suzuki Swift Sport.

    A proper coupe version could have also belatedly become a successor to the Ford Puma, so long its not a heavy Convertible like the Ford StreetKa let alone a silly Coupe Convertible like the Opel Tigra TwinTop or Peugeot 207 CC.

  3. I too have heard the story that Fiat funded the productionised Trepiuno with the money Ford paid them to develop the Tychy Ka.

    There’s another one that Ford insisted on reworking the Mini ‘platform’ suspension to give ride and handling characteristics to meet their own standards, and som,e but not all, of the improvements were adopted by Fiat for the 500.

    The Tychy Ka production numbers are neither impressive nor disastrous: 507,887 from late 2008 to 2017, according to carsalesbase.com. The White Hen, with a consisistent 60-70,000 per year continues to do far better.

    I can’t imagine that Fiat would have given up on the 500 had Ford not turned up a the right time with their proposal, but the notion leads to an interesting hypothesis; If there had been no 500, would Fiat still be selling passenger cars in northern Europe?

    1. That White Hen is truly a mystery product. It hails from a near-extinct line of cars. It is not advertised or sold outside Italy (I am sure some Germans order a few). It is not especially good at anything. Yet it sells and sells and sells. What peculiar slice of the market is it hitting? Who would have thought that in Italy there were 60,000 “femmes d´une certain age” who wanted a car like that each and every year. I don´t see them in public in corresponding numbers. Is it bought be others?

  4. Ford did the same mistakes with the 2nd generation of the Ka that Renault did with the Twingo. Both have thrown away the chance to offer a small car with a lot more character than a Fox or an Aygo. A chance Fiat has needed and taken.

    The Ford Start would have benn a much better successor fpr the KA, i really like his chromed window lines .

    1. Is there a modern successor to the true Ka? The mainstream Panda and 500 have a completely different driving character with ultra-light city orientated controls. The Ka is far ‘meatier’.

      The Peugeot 107 I thrash – there’s no other way – regularly is closer. The electric steering is surprisingly good, the interior quality feels even tawdrier than the Ford and it needs another 300cc and a rev counter. Rotten gearbox apart, it’s as close to a Ka as I can imagine.

      I’ve yet to try an Uptigomeh! The GTI appeals but it’s twice the price the original Ka cost, allowing for ten years of inflation.

    2. Seem to recall reading about an earlier cancelled project for the mk2 Renault Twingo was a lot more promising then what eventually reached production though cannot find anymore details which apparently exist on non-English language Renault forums / sites.

  5. Richard,

    I’ve done my researches, and the White Hen is definitely an Italy-only product. Sergio told us that it would be so, and it has come to pass. The Lancia international (meaning European mainland) sites invites visitors to Mopar service contacts with the words “If you experience unwelcome surprises, you trust the professionals”.

    Yet the Mighty Hen remains Italy’s second best seller. I think it could be down to vulgar money. Entry level for the Ypsilon (in Elefantino Blu trim) is €9500. The Panda starts at €7950, the 500 at €9950. All of these are special offer prices, well below official list.

    Hyundai Italia are offering the Ite Hen at €8750, with a 5 year unlimited warranty. If Sergio isn’t worried, he ought to be.

    1. Now I get it a bit clearer. I´d assumed something normal was the case and it isn´t. And I had forgotten that Lancia is confined to Italy. Customers are mosly after a car at that price point and it happens to be the relic of the Lancia range. Even if many people are buying the car because it looks nice at the right price, wouldn´t be odd not to have a successor for it with the same badge and to hell with tidy mindedness that says “Why not sell it as a Fiat”. Of course it costs a little extra to have a Lancia shield on a dealer and to print up some Lancia documentation but by keeping it alive they can at least ensure a soft landing for the next car for that market position. There are Italians who don´t want a Fiat after all. Keep them happy, sell than a Lancia instead. That´d be the hedging of bets and possibly allow some variants to be sold when it suited them.

  6. Opel must have studied the 2010 Start concept long and hard because all I see is the Vauxhall Adam. A car which I could never understand how it could turn a penny profit.

    1. I have driven an Opel Adam. The car turned out to be really pleasing. It´s essentially the driving seat and IP of an Opel Insignia set in a small package. I have got over the appearance: it´s not meant to be a design classic or a bit of fastidious Jonny Ives product design. It´s meant to look lush which I think it does. There are lots of small details where they did more than was needed. If you don´t like it I can well understnd. There is however, plenty of room in the market for small, ritzy cars. Lancia used to make them (still do).

  7. Adam is built in German and features faux-Rolls-Royce extras. Its been reliable aside from a steering joint recall. Yet its never sold? Only with the advent of the current Astra estate has the design language progressed. I fear its days are now seriously numbered.

    1. The Adam is not a car for the British market, I would guess. It´s too fun and UK buyers have gone cold on Vauxhall. And the name doesn´t chime well with that unique sense of fun/irony that UKers display. I remember Clarkson trying to find something fun in the name TT. You can work it out. It was forced. I expect some people think Adam isn´t a name for a car, thinking along the same lines as JC and looking to find a joke where there isn´t one. And so on and so on.

  8. ‘We’ wanted it be called Nova or something. We got nowhere, but at least the fight stopped us from getting a Korean called Karl.
    The best warranty claim I did on a Adam was for the replacement 100 helium filled balloons. I kid you not..

  9. Wasn’t the design of the original Ka influenced by the need to keep manufacturing costs low (the hatch needing to be aligned in two dimensions rather than three?). I think one of the Dacias had side window glass which was identical for all four doors to keep costs down, which seems a much more intelligent way to reduce costs than to try to make a car suitable for all markets, and therefore pleasing none.

    1. The argument was that the appearance made construction easier – a somewhat banal claim as the considerations of assembly always inform design/appearances.
      The Mk1 Panda had front and rear screens made so the same sheet of glass (same part) could used at either end.

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