Tea Leaf Prophecy

As reports emerge that Ford is preparing to study KA no more, we try to sound upset.

It’s been emotional. (c) bilmagasinet.dk

As your correspondent is perhaps over-fond of observing, the Henry Ford Motor Company does quite a line in unlearning nowadays. So much so in fact that it’s been getting rather difficult to keep up. Unlearn : Saloons. Unlearn : Minivans. Unlearn : Up to 5000 jobs in Europe this year.

Reaping the rewards of its failure to react in a timely fashion to a combination of competitive, behavioural and legislatively-driven factors, to say Ford Europe is embattled is something of an understatement. Coming soon perhaps? Unlearn : Britain.

The latest in this unedifying jettisoning of ballast lies at the bottom of Ford’s European drawer. Unlearn : KA. Not for the first time either, since the advent of the current KA Plus involved a sizeable quantum of collective amnesia towards the visually striking original, to say nothing of its less arresting (or commercially successful) Tychy-KA replacement.

In truth, the current KA + was little more than a placeholder, an opportunity for Ford to establish what, if any portion of the European economy-car market it could inexpensively hold on to, while giving dealers something to hide in a corner of the showroom for those cheerless souls who rebuffed all entreaties to be up-sold a Fiesta. Certainly, KA Plus suggests the diametric opposite of a party – or perhaps the kind where you lock yourself in the bathroom, feverishly dialling the local taxi service, while feigning an urgent mercy-dash to the bedside of an aged relative.

It’s likely that Ford’s product strategists were realistic enough to rationalise that a reheated emerging-market offering wasn’t going to butter all that many turnips and in this context they were correct. After all, they were still licking the wounds inflicted by their superiors following the commercial drubbing the risible EcoSport CUV received until such time as it was given a perfunctory (if mystifyingly effective) lick and a promise.

KA + therefore benefited from a soupçon more developmental rigour from the engineering teams in Köln-Merkenich and Dunton before being unleashed to the baying masses. Modest, rather than stellar sales were the order of play following its 2016 introduction, with virtually identical numbers (slightly over 50,000) sold over the past two years adding up to a total of 121,322 to February of this year.

As is customary, if we employ the standard Driven to Write barometer of success – the evergreen White Hen Test© – we discover that FCA sold 188,595* Ypsilons over an identical timescale – a car which I need not remind readers sells exclusively in Italy. Although for those amongst you (poor deluded fools that you are) who do not view the death-defying Lancia in quite the same beatific terms, another way of looking at matters is this. Over 2018 alone, FCA shipped 168,094 Fiat Pandas across the European continent, itself no spring chicken.

All hail the mighty hen! (c) motorbox

But while KA Plus’ success (or lack of same) might have been a factor in Ford’s decision not to further prolong the misery, it’s the spectre of 2020 EU emissions regulations that have precipitated the erstwhile Figo’s forthcoming departure from these shores. Following a hasty and by the looks of things, futile facelift last year, the added costs of ensuring the KA + can maintain compliance are not only prohibitive, but any failure to do so would entail huge fines, the like of which Ford do not wish to be saddled with. So adieu.

While it’s tough going for all carmakers in the current environment, Ford in particular appear to be either having a particularly torrid time of it at present or are making particularly hard work of things, depending on where your sympathies rest on the subject.

A number of things seem clear however. (1): No eulogies will be required for KA Plus, the KA that gave you less, but in an altogether bigger, more amorphous package. (2): In its absence, Ford is ceding even more ground to its European rivals. (3): It’s unlikely to be a sector we’ll see them return to anytime soon.

Unlearn : Market share?


*All sales data – Carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Tea Leaf Prophecy”

  1. TBH was expecting much better from Ford with the Ka+ despite its bland appearance, was expecting a SportKa+ featuring a 120-132 hp 1.6 Sigma engine instead of what entered production. Then again it was never the same for the original Ka after it was replaced by the Fiat 500-based mk2 Ka.

  2. Despite its popularity, one has to assume that the profit margin on the original version of the Ka was insufficient to justify or finance a true successor. Hence, the Mk2, despite Ford’s assertion to the contrary, was effectively a rebodied Fiat 500, and the Ka+ was merely a repurposed emerging markets product. The “+” suffix was an acknowledgement of its larger size, taking it uncomfortably close to the Fiesta in that respect alone.

    At the time it was launched, I remember Ford’s talking heads justifying its closeness in size to the Fiesta by asserting that the Ka+ would appeal to those who valued its low price, space and practicality above all else. Isn’t that why most people used to buy Fiestas?

    Was this intended to allow Ford to push up Fiesta list prices to VW Polo levels? I notice that the entry list price for both is now in the £15k area. However, the Ka+ starts at £11,300 and is dangerously close to the Hyundai i20, Kia Rio and Skoda Fabia, all of which start in the £12k area. The difference in PCP monthly payments is likely to be very small, so you would need to be very committed to Ford to buy a Ka+ rather than any of the others. It’s little wonder that the Ka+ has failed: like the Ecosport, it’s a cynical product aimed at the gullible and neither will be missed.

  3. There’s a house around the corner from me with two (count ‘em) KA+s on the driveway! Someone likes them.

    1. And there’s a house near me which has two Ypsilons. Still popular in France, so not sold only in Italy.
      I doubt any other supermini matches its level of luxe and accessories/options.
      The five-door you show is rare, and expensive.

      Pity they canned Musa, a Fiat Idea with the Lancia luxe touch. Saw a v high-spec one yesterday, up from the Cote d’Azur to Normandy, Would still fetch €7k+ at nine years old.

      Ford has just the same problems as all car-makers today. They can’t see a future beyond three years, and nor can I.

    2. Vic: If I’m not mistaken, the current Ypsilon was only available as a five door from launch (2010), the two previous generation models being three-door only. Also, in the wake of FCA’s abject failure to foist reheated US Chryslers upon European customers under the fabled Lancia shield, the Ypsilon was facelifted and became primarily Italy-only. Which is not to say of course that it isn’t offered elsewhere.

      The White Hen is edging close to a decade now on the market in its current form, and sales have fallen from its previously stable base. However, for the first two months of 2019, they are holding up well. We underestimate this chicken at our peril…

  4. At the risk of causing offence to the Lancia appreciating authors and readership of DTW (of which I am one) isn’t the Ypsilon just a MiTo in a smart(er) suit? My sister-in-law has one, which she loves, but it’s a dull to drive and really doesn’t deserve its Alfa Romeo badge.

    1. The MiTo is a worthy spiritual successor to the Arna when it comes to being the worst Alfa ever.
      Utterly uninspiring and simply no fun at all to drive – and in Italy you see them everywhere just as you do the White Hen.
      Which says a lot today’s Italian car buyers.
      Would people buying a MiTo or a White Hen appreciate an Alfasud?

    2. The current Ypsilon is on the same FCA common platform as that of the 500/Panda (and previous-gen KA) and is I believe built alongside at Tychy in Poland. Given that the Panda is considered a thoroughly decent little car, I can’t see why the White Hen would be appreciably less so. Nevertheless Daniel, nobody here is under any illusions as to its rightful place in the Lancia pantheon.

      The MiTo is a horse of a different stripe, sharing its architecture with the Grande Punto and to an extent, the current Corsa. Just don’t tell Richard…

    3. Ah, that’s interesting, Eóin. I hadn’t realised the MiTo and Ypsilon were based on different platforms. The ancient Corsa/Punto underpinnings would explain why the Alfa is not only a poor drive, but uncomfortable too.

    4. The MiTo is suffering from the same problems as the Punto like lack of suspension travel and resulting hard suspension. That’s what you get when you combine an excessively tall vehicle with a cheapo trailing arm suspension which is cheap to make but inherently unsuitable for tall vehicles (even more than for anything else) because of its geometrical properties. A torsion beam solution (Punto I) or preferably a wishbone solution with transverse leaf (128, Ritmo) spring would be much better.

  5. Most car makers who get it right first time fail at the first update.
    Twingo, Clio, Juke, Fabia, 206, Cactus, etc.
    Even VW had a few duds in its Golf progression, along with Passats.

  6. Apologies if this is already common knowledge, but I read yesterday that VW Group has cancelled plans to replace the Up!/Citigo/Mii trio, citing increasingly stiff emissions regulations as making such small (and low emissions) cars uneconomic to produce.

    Surely a case of unintended consequences?

    1. Auto Express mentioned that too, in a spread about small cars being discontinued. Likewise, the Vauxhall/Opel Adam and Viva/Karl (though these have GM links so is one reason why), and I think they said that the 108/C1/Aygo may be going electric, so are fine for emissions but less so for affordability. Smart is going EV-only, and is now 50% owned by Geely, which will move production to China in 2022.

      Which made me look up modern kei-cars; apparently the new Suzuki Alto achieves 37km/litre, which if true makes it 105mpUKg from its 660cc 3-cylinder. Would safety and/or emission rules prevent this from being sold in the EU? It’s made in Pakistan as well as Japan, which may have more favourable costs and exchange rate. Of the current kei-cars, this seems less van-like and maybe more appealing to European buyers. Styling is similar to the Ignis and Jimny, both of which seem to have been well-received. Price seems to be from 848k Yen, or around £5800/ 6800Euro. https://www.suzuki.co.jp/car/alto/

    2. Would definitely be interested in a European version of the 8th generation Suzuki Alto, regardless of whether it carries over the existing 660cc Kei spec engine or features an enlarged yet still efficient 750-1000cc 3-cylinder.

  7. I rather fancy one of these:

    Shame about the Citroenesque A-pillar mess, and roundabouts might be a challenge, but fun all the same.

  8. I’ve yet to try a Ka+, but those who have say it’s an unexpectedly decent drive, so perhaps some of the Richard Parry-Jones spirit lives on in São Paulo and Chennai.

    As for the impending death of the truly small and cheap car, is there a north / south divide?

    Lots of the small PSA, Hyundai / Kia and VAG stuff in Italy, despite the dominance of the Panda and White Hen. In northern Europe the sector is marginal. I can’t see European governments legislating a tax-favoured K-Class unless it was exclusively electric.

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