The arrival at the US ports of Baltimore and Oxnard of 100 new European-built and specification Ford Fiestas marked the start of a very long launch for the new small cars.

US sales of Mexican-made cars don’t begin until next year but the European models will be loaned for six months to “100 young trendsetters chosen from more than 3,300 applicants as part of the ‘Fiesta Movement’ ”, the automaker said.

Those picked to drive the initial cars will share their experiences online through social media sites such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube “to build buzz and anticipation for the vehicle’s North American launch early next year”, according to Ford.

The stylish new Fiesta already is a common sight on the roads here in the UK where it went on sale last year. Asia-Pacific sales began this year. Ford claimed the redesigned car was the second-best selling vehicle of any make across its 19 major European markets, and headed for its best month yet in Europe in March.

“Early response from buyers in China and other Asia-Pacific markets already is outstripping company expectations,” it added.

The 100 five-door cars for the US were built at Cologne in Germany and sent off with some fanfare several weeks ago.

The Environment Protection Agency had to give special permission for European emissions-complient vehicles to be used in the US and the language in the vehicles’ instrument panel message centre was changed from German to English and the speedometers from kilometres to miles per hour. The voice piping from the Bluetooth-enabled vehicle, however, retains its British accent.

The promotional vehicles feature keyless entry with push-button start, capless fuel filler system and 16” or 17” wheels.

Ford said it was aiming the Fiesta movement at ‘millennials’, the next-generation consumer group born between 1979 and 1985 that will total 70m new drivers in 2010 – the largest class of any generation.

“Making up 28% of the driving age population, the potential size of the market serves as an opportunity for Ford to connect with a group that hasn’t yet established brand loyalty and is very connected to the use of technology and social networking,” the automaker said.

“For millennials, social media is a part of everyday life. Statistics show that for those born after 1980, 62% of the content they consume comes from someone they know personally.”

The test drivers will be assigned monthly drives that take them to new places, to meet new people and to experience new things.

By 2010, the Fiesta will be produced in Germany, Spain, Mexico, Thailand and China for sale worldwide.