NICK GIBBS

Why Ford execs are lobbying for the Focus sedan

Despite pride over design, Ford foresees slim demand for Focus sedan
Nick Gibbs is a UK correspondent for Automotive News Europe.
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The pride that two key Ford executives have in the Focus sedan is so strong that they petitioned journalists to persuade Ford country heads in Europe to include it their lineups.

They were only half-joking.

“We put a lot of effort into designing the sedan,” Ford of Europe design chief Amko Leenarts said at the launch of the Focus range in Europe. He and Helmut Reder, the car’s vehicle line director in Europe, are big believers in the car.

The Focus sedan will see far fewer showrooms globally than the hatchback and wagon variant after the U.S. decided that it would take only the raised Active version of the hatchback. That leaves China as the sedan’s only major market.

Sedans might be a rare sight in Western Europe, but they remain popular in parts of Eastern Europe. Ford will build the model in Saarlouis, Germany, alongside the mainstream Focus body styles to sell in Romania and Turkey.

But the numbers will be relatively small.

If markets such as the UK, Ford’s biggest in Europe, showed the slightest interest in buying the sedan, then the factory would be ready, Reder said.

“I don’t need volumes of 10,000 to sell it,” he said.

The Focus sedan was designed alongside the hatch and wagon and even influenced the styling of the other two so as not to hobble its appearance.

“The hatchback is quite truncated, very short in the rear overhang, so you can get away with a lot of wedge or attitude to the body side.” Joel Piaskowski, Ford’s global director for cars and crossovers, told Automotive News Europe at the launch of the Focus in April. “What happens when you project that line onto a sedan, it really raises the rear of the vehicle. The old one is really quite high in the rear.”

The design team fixed that by making the lines along the side more horizontal and by foreshortening the rear trunk lid. “It has a balance that we paid particular attention to as we designed all three vehicles together,” Piaskowski said.

The design team even made the hatchback doors fit the sedan without upsetting the look. “They were shared on the previous sedan, but it was more of a compromise,” Piaskowski said.

Leenarts pointed to the success of the sedan version of the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA as evidence that compact sedans might be coming back into fashion. The Focus has been designed with a more premium quality to it -- so, indeed, could the Focus sedan return to the UK after sales stopped with the Mk2 Focus in 2009?

Sorry, but no, said UK marketing head Lisa Brankin. “Progressively over time, four-doors have been withdrawn from the market,” she said. “No one’s adding them.”

Ford is constantly quizzing buyers about what they’re considering for their next car, and sedans just aren’t registering with them.

“If they’re not buying them and not considering them, then you have to make them want them, and that’s quite difficult,” Brankin said. This is one Focus that’s going to remain a rarity in Europe.

You can reach Nick Gibbs at ngibbs@crain.com.

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