Ford Motor Co.'s new lower-medium class competitor, the Focus, will go on sale this autumn. Can it win market share from the Volkswagen Golf and General Motors' Astra in Europ's biggest segment? Automotive News Europe reporter Diana T. Kurylko talked with Ford of Europe President James Donaldson about prospects for the Escort's successor.
How successful do you think the new Focus will be and why?
Very. The basics are right. Take all the great, successful, big-volume, sustained success stories. You will find in the last 10 to 20 years that styling has been given as the reason. Take our own Taurus, the first one. It had the right size, package, roominess and cost of ownership. By the way, it was wrapped pretty attractively.
With the Ford Focus, we have the dramatic New Edge look with the three-door and five-door. But we supplement them with what will be very big volume cars, the classic four-door and the station wagon. We have not thrown all the dice on one look in recognition of the volume we need.
Second, the package will be best-in-class. Third, the driveability and dynamics of the car, we believe, will also be best-in-class. And in terms of performance and economy mixture, we'll be at or next to best-in-class.
The reaction we've had today from prospective customers and dealers is unlike anything here in recent history.
How many can you sell?
I'll give you a pretty unequivocal answer - it's going to be very successful. There is a common thread in the comments from the press and our competitors who have seen the Focus: 'If you get the quality right, you'll have a real winner.'
Do you think you can come close to the VW Golf?
That's not on our radar screen in the future. The No. 1 objective is to get the vehicles onto the street in a well-executed launch. Then, in the third year of the product cycle, we'll see where we can go. We certainly will not do that if the Focus doesn't very quickly gain a reputation for superb quality and fit-and-finish. The appearance of the three- and five-door will be controversial. It will polarize public opinion.
The Focus will continue the new generation of Fords in Europe that started with the Ka.
How much production capacity do you have for the Focus in Europe?
We will end the first calendar year at between 400,000 and 500,000 units.
When does production start?
On 10 August in Saarlouis (Germany) and four weeks later in Valencia (Spain).
How aggressive will you be with incentives to gain market share? Ford Werke in Germany has been heavy on promotions, like pricing station wagons the same as sedans and having your own scrapping incentives.
The thinking behind those actions is still alive and well but moving onto a new plateau. What's driving it all is the desire to polish the (Ford) oval.
Distress merchandise doesn't get a glow around it. Consistent and high price support is the antithesis of building brand equity.
If you're honest about it, you'll admit that distress pricing, giveaways and the rest of it is simply one way of saying you priced the product too high in the first place.
You will find when we bring the Ford Focus to market that we've done our homework and are pricing it intelligently, in some ways uniquely, and also competitively.
And your share?
You have to be realistic. It is difficult and expensive to pick up a point or two of share. It's not a good long-term decision. I am interested in share, yes, but within certain limits.