Ford Brazil is taking on increased competition in the small car sector with a 2008 model year facelift for its Camaçari-built Fiesta that makes the model even more distinctively different from the European version – and then there’s the unique sedan models that supplement the hatchbacks.

This is the most major change for the model since it was launched in Brazil almost five years ago, coinciding with the opening of Camaçari, said to be Ford’s most productive facility world-wide.

The Brazilian version was already different from the European car due to a need to increase the front overhang and the sedan was developed locally as this body style is preferred in Brazil – European B-segment buyers opt for hatchbacks and aren’t offered the sedan in any case.

Ford Brazil said its revised Fiesta follows the “kinetic” style first seen on the S-Max minivan in Europe with new grille, two-reflector headlamps, repositioned turn indicators, redesigned bumper and bonnet (hood), new tail lamps, new interior materials and finishes and a new instrument cluster and dashboard air vents.

Ford clearly is gearing up for hefty competition in this sector this year. A new Fiat Palio is expected, together with a Peugeot 206 restyle and and the long-awaited redesign for the 20-year-old top selling VW Gol.

Despite current strong demand, Ford was prudent with its price hikes: some 2% for the entry-level one-litre version and almost no change for the 1.6-litre model.

Marcos de Oliveira, the new president of Ford Brazil and MERCOSUR, admitted during the media launch event that the company would hardly be able to keep up with market growth in 2007 – January industry sales were up 16% year on year alone.

“There is no decision yet on when the capacity of the Camaçari plant will be increased,” he said.

“I know that the demand for the new Fiestas may be higher than expected, but to maintain our current 12% market share I can divert some units from export,” he told just-auto. By mid-year, the EcoSport mini-SUV will also get some changes that should spur demand.

Dominic DiMarco, Ford’s executive director for Latin America and Canada, was also at the media launch. He said that production efficiency and new products are key to reversing the losses at Ford Motor Company.

“We had many manufacturing plants and the process of downsizing is slow by its own nature. But changes are taking place and at an accelerating pace. By 2010, 100% of our products will be renewed in the US.”

Fernando Calmon