The first Ford Focus, launched in 1998, transformed Ford’s image – for the better – in one of Western Europe’s largest volume passenger vehicle segments, the lower medium or C-segment. It proved to be a strong seller and set new standards in driving dynamics for mass-market hatchbacks. The new Focus is at the heart of Ford’s C1 platform sharing strategy and comes with some high expectations, but the step up is evolutionary not revolutionary. Anthony Lewis reports (with additional reporting by Dave Leggett).


The original Ford Focus will be a hard act to follow. Commenting on Ford Europe’s first half sales results in July, Earl Hesterberg, then Vice President, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford of Europe remarked that, “Focus C-Max is still growing dramatically and the Focus continued to perform strongly despite its next generation just being only a few months away from its European debut”.


Indeed, the outgoing Focus supported Ford’s European performance at a critical time, with still-high sales throughout its model cycle helping to minimise Ford’s long-term European share slide (in 1995, the Ford marque accounted for 11.5% of the west European market, a figure that had fallen to just 8.6% – and just over 1.2 million cars – by 2003).


The success of the Focus in the European marketplace led to the creation of a bold platform-sharing industrial strategy in developing the next generation model at Ford of Europe’s headquarters in Cologne, with the inclusion of other brands in the Ford family (although the strategy is not quite for a global platform – North America sticks with the current C170 platform for its next Focus due in 2007). Accordingly, the new Ford Focus is the final model off Ford’s C1 Global Shared Technologies platform – which has also spawned the Mazda3, Volvo S40/V50 and Ford C-Max. The C-Max compact minivan may have been a late entrant to its segment but the model has already provided Ford Europe with some relief from financial losses.


Ford of Europe Chairman Lewis Booth has said that Ford will cut its pre-tax loss this year to less than $200 million from a shortfall of over $1.1 billion in 2003 (which was up from $549 million in 2002). Booth’s confidence reflects Ford expectations that new Focus will sell well, as well as on the fruits of an industrial strategy of substantial cost reductions achieved through platform-sharing and common parts procurement with Mazda and Volvo.


But the new car enters a segment that is awash with cutthroat competition and slim margins. There’s the still fresh fifth generation Golf and latest Vauxhall/Opel Astra for starters. Add to that the new Citroën C4 (Xsara replacement) – which gets launched in Paris this week – and a host of variously sized compact MPVs that are available from most makes these days, and it’s becoming pretty clear that the competitive environment in Europe for the new car will be a tough one.


Clear water challenge
After the success of Ford Focus One, Ford’s challenge in developing Focus Two was how to open clear water again between it and its rivals. Ford was convinced that, dynamically, original Focus was the leader of the C-segment pack, said Helmut Reder, vehicle engineering manager, Ford of Europe.


He likens Focus and VW Golf to book ends holding up either end of Europe’s C segment. “Focus is the dynamic end and Golf the quality end. What I think we have managed to do with new Focus is move much closer to Golf in quality and increase our lead in the dynamics – the driving fun – of the car.”


It’s a view that few who have driven it so far during its eight-week European press launch in Italy will disagree with. The launch ends on October 20.


Chris Bird, director of design for Ford of Europe, explains that improving the quality was a task entrusted to a new Craftsmanship Group at Ford. This new group was set up four years ago with a brief to improve the quality feel of Ford vehicles while staying within strict cost restrictions.


He points to the door handles and the instrument panel as being two areas which the Craftsmanship Group influenced. There are other clues, too. The gear lever is positioned 40mm higher than in the original Focus. “This gives more of a ‘cockpit’ feel to the cabin,” said Bird.


Evolution not revolution
While Focus One, as he calls it, was a revolution from the Escort six years ago, Focus Two is an “evolution designed to add quality and solidity and make it more mature, but with a silhouette that still stands out from the competition.”


“We tried a more upright rear but since we wanted the car to look lower, that didn’t really work. Focus One was designed to disguise its height, but because it is wider and longer, Focus Two can be made to look lower.”


Bird says with some pride that the three and five-door Focus share identical roof panels and headroom in the rear of both is also the same. The difference is the high wedge at the back of the three-door which gives it its coupe look.


The high rear lamps have become a Ford trademark. “That’s what we do at Ford, that’s where they should be and their position gives us the widest loading area in the segment.”


Focus will be built at Saarlouis and Valencia – the 5-door and 3-door are rolling off the Saarlouis lines now alongside C-Max and wagon production will start in January. Valencia starts production of the 5-door in January and the 4-door sedan in February. Demand and production will be synchronised by balancing output of the five-door between the two plants, said Reder.


‘Affordable technology’
Andreas Wöhler, manager of dynamics, Ford of Europe, points to the inclusion of adjustable pedals for the first time in the segment as a measure of what new Focus will offer customers. Much is also made of what Ford is calling “affordable technology”.


The theory is that there is no point offering technology on the options list that no one buying a C segment car can afford. That’s why the turn-following headlights are halogen, not xenon. “Halogen lights are 50% cheaper than xenon ones which makes turn-following lights affordable for our customers.”


An integrated Bluetooth system is another highlight, says Wöhler. But he points to the biggest improvement being in terms of road noise and, although Focus Two is bigger and heavier than Focus One, it is more agile and more precise on the road. As one colleague put it, new Focus makes new Golf seem torpid.


New Focus also boasts on-board adjustment of steering feel with three levels, standard, sport and comfort, the latter for city driving.


Steve Hood, marketing director for Ford of Britain where new Focus is launched through the dealerships in October before becoming available in January, believes that quality in new Focus is now right at the top of the volume sector.


With the likes of BMW and Audi moving in on volume territory with 1 series and A3, quality and craftsmanship is more important than ever for volume manufacturers. The prestige brands are currently taking 2% of the C segment in the UK, said Hood. Ford of Britain is offering an entry-level Focus in Studio trim at £10,895 which is £250 cheaper than the current entry-level Focus while there is a new top end model, Titanium, at £15,525 which is “techno luxury, almost Bang & Olufsen.”


Ghia models, maintaining the traditional luxury of wood, leather and chromes are £14,670 which is £600 more than current Focus Ghia but with £1,200 of additional equipment.



Table 1
Sales in the lower medium segment – Western Europe















































Thousand units 2003 %ch,YoY
Volkswagen Golf 494.8 -17.0
Peugeot 307 440.4 -0.5
Ford Focus 440.4 -15.2
Renault Megane 354.8 36.3
Opel/Vaux Astra 350.0 -20.3
Fiat Stilo 154.0 -12.3
Toyota Corolla 148.5 7.2
Citroen Xsara 112.5 -33.5
Others 636.4 -9.8
Total 3,131.8. -9.1

Source: Industry estimates
NB: Segment excludes compact MPVs/Minivan
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