Rather than host its event at a booth-side stage, Ford booked the Cobo Arena for its highly-produced (yet not without its stumbles) presentation. It began with the usual corporate propaganda, centering around the “One Ford” theme and highlighting the Blue Oval’s global operations. Then Alan Mulally zoomed into the middle of the arena in a 2012 Focus ST and, to gales of spontaneous sycophantic applause, began introducing the K-Car-like range of future products based on Ford’s Global Compact platform.
Mulally’s choice of the bunch would have been mine as well. Jack Baruth has walked us through the US-bound ST, but it looks far better in the flesh than earlier press shots indicated. That fishy mouth makes the ST look like Aston-Martin chose the Focus to become the Cygnet’s big brother before giving up after designing a grille. Next to its fellow Focus models, the ST looks like a member of the family, while retaining a distinctive identity.
Next on the agenda were the C Max twins, the plus-sized cousins of the family Focus. The C Max Five Passenger showed up on cue, but the C Max Seven Passenger (Grand C Max for you Euro-types) didn’t show. Ford’s Derek Kuzak broke the overproduced feel of the event when, realizing that he would be alone on stage with the five-passenger model, he walked towards where the larger C Max should have been with an awkward “let me just go on…” To his credit, Kuzak did a fine job pretending that the vehicle he was describing wasn’t supposed to be there.
Luckily, Ford had a “surprise” up its sleeve just after the C Max misstep, with the debut of its “Vertrek” Concept, which previews the second-generation Ford Kuga which will replace the Ford Escape in the US. It looks quite a bit like a sleeker update of the Kuga… in other words, nothing like the rugged-looking (and still popular) Escape. If, as anecdotal evidence seems to indicate, the Escape sells well because it looks like an SUV (compared to the CR-Vs and Equinoxes of the world) but gets decent mileage, this is a risky direction for the US market.
The final portion of the conference involved Ford’s rollout of its electrified, hybrid and plug-in hybrid C-segment models. A video featuring Ed Begley Jr dished out thinly-veiled but toothless snark at Nissan’s Leaf and GM’s Volt, before declaring the butterfly the new symbol of Ford’s green vehicles (because previous Ford hybrid displays used leaves to symbolize efficient driving, an image Ford no longer wants to push for Nissan-related reasons). To (somewhat ironically) illustrate the point, thousands of paper butterflies were then released from the ceiling as the Focus EV, C Max “Energi” Plug-In Hybrid and the C Max Hybrid rolled into Cobo Arena. Ford didn’t give solid EV range stats on the C Max Energi but they did claim that the five-passenger plug-in MPV would offer better charge-sustaining mode efficiency than the Volt and a 500 mile total (gas and electric) range.
The event ended with all ten Compact models on the floor (as well as thousands of paper symbols of environmental sensitivity) as a scrum formed around Alan Mulally. Having bought a first-generation Focus as my first new car, I certainly could see the appeal of Ford’s Euro-derived C-segment revival… but having seen the sales numbers, I also know that Ford’s first attempt at selling Americans on its Euro-Focii fell well short of the cheap, utilitarian Escort. Ford’s gamble looks good, offering numerous flavors of what should be a pretty competent chassis…but even in the rocking atmosphere of Cobo Arena, it’s impossible to forget that this ambitious assault is by no means a sure thing.