Posted by: David Kiley on June 20, 2006
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece for the magazine about how Ford has botched the management of the Ford Focus and how it loses big money on each one it sells. What I couldn’t get into in the small space I had was the fact that there isn’t anything wrong with this car in terms of packaging, performance or, it seems these days, quality.
The U.S. Focus, which is a carry-over platform from the 2000 Focus (Europe got the new and even better one, but we didn’t), had higher sales last month as more people are shopping for fuel efficient vehicles. $3.00-plus per gallon gas will do that. Still, Focus has been under-performing the so-called B-car segment for some time. And since Ford decided not to invest in the Focus here in the U.S. to bring it up to the standard of the Euro model, it is stuck selling the car on price, not fashion.
That’s a shame. Since Ford worked to clean up the quality problems that bedeviled the Focus in its first few years, and upgraded the interior and a few bits of the exterior, it is a car that stands up fine to new entries like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit. Pricing, which is hard to compare dollar for dollar because of the nature of the retail transaction, is very close. A base model Yaris, which I am driving this week, can be had, says Edmunnds.com, for $11,830. A comparable Focus ZX3S hatchback, after rebate, can be had for $12,767.
That’s about $1K more, but once you start sliding options around and navigate how badly the dealer is going to try fleece you, I bet the stickers on both look a lot closer than that when comparably equipped.
The point is this: Ford needs to hunker down and start working out the fashion appeal of every new model, and get the alchemy of successful new model launches correct. The newness of the Yaris, is going a long way toward making it look better than the Focus right now, while I think I’d probably opt for the Focus if I was spending my own money.
As Ford is developing three new models under $20,000 (probably under $16,000)for 2008, let me offer this about creating the right alchemy. It goes like this: Let the designers trump the engineers and accountants+ build the vehicle in a place that allows you to make a little profit+plan on spinning variants from the car over the course of four or five years rather than coming out with them all at once at the start+substantially upgrade the platform every four years+freshen the exterior every four years+assign the marketing to an advertising/communications agency that is not necessarily your ad agency of record, but rather the agency with the best read on the vehicle and your brand+spend adequately on compelling and creative advertising over the course of the whole year=a vehicle program you can proud of.