Fleet News

Face to face: Going for gold again with new Ford Focus

IN the race for fleet sales glory, the Ford Focus has achieved a string of gold medals since it was first launched in 1998.

With more than 75 trophies in its lifetime, including a succession of Fleet News awards, buyers have kept the Focus at the top of the fleet sales charts.

But unlike the gold medal-winning athletes returning from the Olympics to a rapturous welcome last week, the team at Ford has to get straight back on the plane and do it all again.

More than two years’ work has already gone into ensuring the new Focus is a Kelly Holmes, rather than a Paula Radcliffe.

In the UK, one in every 10 cars sold is a Ford and in the fleet market, one in every five carries the blue oval.

Every year, Ford sells 200,000 cars to fleets, along with 100,000 vans. When you are selling this much, it pays to be first on people’s choice lists. The current Focus is still the best-selling fleet and retail car in the UK. So if you are redesigning it, you can’t afford mistakes.

At least Ford has plenty of experience, having completed a surprisingly successful transition when it killed off the old Escort – prompting horror in the popular press – in favour of the Focus name. As a global car, the Focus has a global group of designers behind it, working on the theme ‘unmistakably a Ford, obviously a Focus’.

It’s built on the same platform as the Volvo S40 and Mazda3 so Ford executives argue that it gives you Japanese production expertise, Swedish safety and European design flair rolled into one.

John McLeod (pictured), chief designer at Ford of Europe, said: ‘We had to come up with something better than the current car, which is difficult considering its success.

‘We increased the wheelbase to give greater space to the driver and passenger. The overall height is about the same, but you sit 30mm higher from the road. Head room is better and there is more leg room.

‘The front overhang has been reduced, but the rear overhang has been increased to deliver more boot space. The boot opening is also wider.

‘We have achieved a sporty, sensual and sleek look and also moved the A-pillar forward by 100mm so that when you sit in the car there is a more panoramic view.’

Final specification and pricing has yet to be announced, but the range will start with the Studio, replacing the CL, moving through LX, Zetec and Ghia, to a new top of the range Titanium. LX and Zetec will be the most popular variants.

Early estimates for European sales show 47% of cars will be diesel and the rest petrol, with plans already being considered for an LPG variant.

Five-door will account for half of sales, estate about one- third, three-door about a tenth and the rest the saloon.

All models should be on sale by the spring.

Ford is working on a range of ‘affordable firsts’, including power-adjustable pedals.

Morten Hannesbo, director of sales, Ford of Britain, said: ‘We are not trying to be exclusive, but we are trying to have perceived quality that is outstanding. We are using high-quality fabrics and materials and we have a huge oppor-tunity with the strength of our diesel engine range in a market that is growing dramatically. We also expect a larger user-chooser influence.’

About 100,000 new Focuses should be sold next year, with an additional 25,000 run-out sales of the current Focus. There should also be 25,000 sales of the Focus C-MAX.

Hannesbo added: ‘Sales are currently 68% fleet for Focus, but that will probably drop to 60% fleet. Wholelife costs are key to fleets and putting in new technology and new designs will improve and protect residual values. Better residual values mean lower running costs for our customers.’ Key opinion-formers have been shown the new Focus and presentations to fleets will hit full speed later this year.

Judging by the sales performance of the current Focus, the future looks bright, but Ford isn’t complacent about retaining the model’s 30.3% segment share, particularly with budget brands attacking the market from below and premium brands, including the new BMW 1-series, arriving from above.

Hannesbo added: ‘You can’t be all things to all people and we have to focus on providing the best product we can, offering customers real value for money.’

Lewis Booth, chairman and CEO Ford of Europe

Even we failed to predict how the Focus would take the world by storm. In the ultimate test of success for any car, it has sold over four million in 80 countries. So when we set about creating the next Focus, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We knew we had to push the limits of its class-leading package further. So we did.

Derrick Kuzak, vice-president of product development, Ford of Europe

To create a new Ford Focus was a big challenge. We had to deliver a car that stayed true to the qualities that Focus represents to millions of motorists. Also, we had to set new standards at every stage. The result is a car in which we feel great pride. There is a real team spirit among the engineers who have worked on this project.

Chris Bird, director of design, Ford of Europe

We needed to come up with a design that instinctively says ‘I’m a Focus’ and flesh it out a little bit to give the car a sense of robustness and a sense of quality. I think the customer will really appreciate what we have done. The Focus is the heartland of European car buying, which has increased the challenge.

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