That this is a project, sanctioned by Ford, that attracted such attention at Turin-a show synonymous with glamorous marques and breathtaking new design – is, in itself, a remarkable coup.
For some time now, Ford has been desperately looking for a spark to boost their increasingly lacklustre performance in the European market. Enter the StreetKa, a convertible with a list price as low as £10,000?
Well, not quite yet. Officially, Ford say that they have no firm plans to commit to this model, but judging from the reaction at last week’s Turin show, you wouldn’t bet against the StreetKa bursting onto the marketplace within 18 months.
Ford’s performance in Europe has recently become a growing source of concern for the Detroit giant, its market share having fallen from approximately 11.5% in 1995 to 9% in 1999. This prompted a series of senior-level crisis meetings at the beginning of 2000, and it was after one such meeting that David Thursfield, Ford of Europe President, announced that the company would axe plans to create a cabriolet version of the successful Focus model (much to the annoyance of the Ford dealer network).
What he did promise, however, was an entirely new, Focus-sized cabriolet that would be ready in 2003. The car would be “breathtaking” said Thursfield, and would not necessarily be named Focus. He may or may not have been referring directly to the StreetKa, but the message is clear: Ford desperately need to tap into/exploit the current obsession with the roadster.
By targeting this niche segment, Ford are clearly hoping to emulate the success of numerous other manufacturers such as Mazda, who led the renaissance of open-topped motoring back in 1990 with the MX-5, a hugely successful model.
With the MX-5 revitalising Mazda’s fortunes, and the Elan and, more recently, the Elise, arguably saving Lotus from insolvency, the sector is growing in appeal to the mainstream manufacturers.
Having enjoyed considerable success with the TT coupe, Audi recently introduced the TT Roadster to yet more critical acclaim, neatly side-stepping the brief adverse publicity surrounding stability at ultra-high speeds (the company retrofitted an electronic stability programme after 55 crashes, all in Germany, resulted in 5 fatalities).
Vauxhall‘s new speedster, the VX220 is due to be launched in September this year, and with over 100 deposits safely in the bank, together with a planned annual production of 3,000 units, another success story looks guaranteed.
Clearly, the StreetKa would not be directly competing against these models, indeed it could be argued that at that price point, it would be competing against a fairly limited range.
Continuing the New Edge design theme, Ford-owned Ghia have designed the StreetKa so that it can be built by specialist coachbuilder Tickford, who currently produce the Racing Puma.
However, as is the case with the introduction of almost all concept vehicles, Ford remain tight-lipped about whether the StreetKa will actually go into production, let alone what it might finally look like were it eventually given the green light.
They might be advised to take a leaf out of Audi’s book and just go for it. The TT was, after all, one of those rare instances where the concept entered series production virtually unchanged. With waiting lists still running at 6 months, Audi haven’t looked back since.