NAIAS: Ford's (Un)Common Compacts

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
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naias ford s un common compacts

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.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • SVT48 SVT48 on Jan 11, 2011

    As hard as it may be to believe, some of us actually buy SUVs or CUVs, etc. for the "U" (utility, for those who may have forgotten). The sloping rear roofline looks great and probably improves the aero numbers but cuts into the ability to get large boxy items into the vehicle. My Honda Accord coupe can take a 10 foot piece of pipe or 2x4 inside with the hatch closed but I couldn’t get a kids 20" bike through the trunk opening. My wife's Mariner will take items like that easily. Also, most cars today have a tow capacity of 500 pounds which is about the weight of an empty boat trailer. If you want to haul a small fishing or ski boat, you better be able to tow 2000 pounds or better. I know it's an unusual concept to actually use the capability of these vehicles but I can't believe I'm the only one.

    • See 1 previous
    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Oct 25, 2011

      @Bill Safreed What only offers 500 lbs of tow capacity? A Mini?

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Jan 12, 2011

    There is a difference between releasing one world car, and releasing ten world cars. When Ford did their world car stuff a generation ago, it did not look like a trend, it looked like a one-off fad. Releasing ten new world cars into the US market changes the market dynamics however. If a buyer understands that the vehicle they are purchasing is not going to be too exotic to maintain, Ford can win them over. Also, the look of these vehicles is so similar to current vehicles on the road, stylewise, that they look contemporary without looking exotic. This also helps Ford. Ford went with a soft style for their pick up trucks twenty years ago, and got caught on the wrong side of the wallet when the market flipped for mini-Kennworth truck stylings. In many ways, the old F-150s appear more modern than their current F-150s. Hopefully Ford has recognized that their butts are exposed with this style and have a Plan B if the market prefers a more hard-edged style. While this is a different market, the current Escape has it's styling fans willing to buy again. The Honda's feminine CR-V may be top seller now, but that doesn't mean the Escape needs to mimic it's limp-wristed appearance. I wish Ford well.

  • Parkave231 I'd rather they remember how to manufacture the things they have before adding more trims and options.
  • SCE to AUX "as if 775 lb-ft of torque in a pickup isn’t enough"Exactly. How about doing something hard instead, like getting your electric truck to meet 'truck' expectations first? That would sell better than a Raptor-like truck.
  • Akear They sell only 20,000 Mustang EVs a year. They better keep the current Mustang!
  • Jkross22 We're thinking about the 500e all wrong. This is a 'new' old car. All of the tooling and R&D is done. Easy way to move an 'Italian' car up market and boost fleet MPG. Plus... dealers can move all unsold models into demo/fleet usage so when Jeep and Durango owners come in for service, they can use this as a loaner.
  • Namesakeone Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. A light truck coming from Ford. We have never seen anything like it. (This is me trying to sound like I'm excited.)