It is hard to believe, but Ford has cancelled the Focus-based small minivan project. How could it do that to dealers, especially after taking away the Scorpio a couple of years ago? How could it abandon the fastest-growing new segment in the market?
Well, Ford executives probably had no choice. The project was so far behind the Renault Scenic and Opel/Vauxhall Zafira that it made no sense to invest in a competitor on the current Focus platform. So only 20 months before the scheduled launch, Ford needed an exit strategy.
Now it will wait for the next-generation Focus, due in 2003, and base a minivan on that car in the autumn of 2004, according to sources.
Some in Ford don't like the decision. But there was no 'business case' for continuing. The Ford MPV would have been the last into the segment and soon would have been out of date.
Ford made a prudent decision, if not a popular one. The bigger question is: How did it get into the predicament in the first place? Why was the Focus minivan so late?
And it was late. Ford was proceeding slowly with the five-seater even before General Motors came out with its Zafira 5+2 and made competitors gasp. Volkswagen and Ford both decided to scrap work on their five-place vehicles and build seven-seaters instead.
The French were unmoved. PSA went ahead with the five-seat Citroen Picasso. And Louis Schweitzer of Renault said that only 15 percent of buyers in the segment wanted seven seats.
Ford has been slow since the mid-1990s, when Ford 2000 - the grand global plan that was to bear fruit this year - was implemented.
Ford of Europe was disassembled and power shifted to Dearborn. For several years Ford had no European chief executive. Imagine!
The global small- and medium-vehicle center was headquartered in Europe, but decisions on big investments were made in the USA. Yet the American and European car markets have probably never been more different than they are today.
Ford now has a chief executive and a chief operating officer in Europe. It has a powerful sales and marketing chief and, finally, a real product development boss for Europe.
But they must first clean up the mess by making decisions like canceling the Focus minivan.
Ford 2000 left the corporation without a brand strategy because it assumed that Ford was one global brand - like an automotive equivalent of Coca-Cola. It isn't. Ford is not only a different brand in Europe and America and Japan; it is a different brand in the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
Sure enough, Ford is reaping the returns of Ford 2000 in 2000 - in the form of declining share and profits. The company must try to repair the damage by accelerating product development and adapting to local needs more quickly.