European appeal has helped make the Ford Focus a surprise success story in the USA.
The Focus is a profitable small car in a market that loves pickup trucks and big sport-utilities. A domestic automaker builds the car, not an Asian small-car powerhouse. And the Focus is a world car that appeals to buyers in both North America and Europe.
Buyer demographics as well as sales are making Ford very happy.
The Focus is bringing the youngest buyers in the basic small-car segment into Ford's US dealerships, said Jeff Eggen, Ford Focus marketing coordinator.
Ben Weisz, a 20-year-old York University student from Toronto, Canada and new Focus owner, said the Ford offered him 'European packaging and styling at the price of a North American car. I think it's the best value out there for the money, especially for someone in my age range.'
Before buying his Focus, Weisz considered several other options, including the Honda Civic, Volkswagen New Beetle and Ford Mustang. He was astounded by the price and styling of the Focus. In the USA, a 2.0-liter LX Focus sedan has a list price of just $12,780 (E13,457).
Ford is back making money in the small-car segment. The triumph is all the more satisfying because the company suffered badly on its previous world car, the $6 billion project that produced the Ford Contour, Mercury Mystique and Ford Mondeo. 'We are not surprised. But we recognize that everybody else is,' said Eggen.
The Focus, on sale in the USA since October, is threatening the segment leader, the Civic. In the first five months of 2000, the Focus outsold the Toyota Corolla, the Chevrolet Cavalier and the Dodge and Plymouth Neon.
In January, Ford increased the Focus assembly line speed at its Wayne, Michigan, plant to 74 cars an hour, up from 65, to meet stronger than expected demand.
'We are making money on the Focus,' Eggen said. 'Although the Focus is great at attracting new buyers to Ford, its role is to make money, and it is.'
The Focus is sold without incentives. Ninety percent of US Focus sales are retail transactions, not discounted fleet sales, Eggen said.
The Focus is being sold with an average transaction price that is $2,000 higher than the Escort, Ford Division President Jim
O'Connor said in February.
Ford's early buyer data indicates the primary vehicle Focus buyers are cross-shopping is the Civic, Eggen said.
Eggen would not predict if the Focus will outsell the Civic in 2000.
'We are right behind them, but we were still ramping up production at the beginning of this year,' he said.
Eggen said the Focus sedan accounts for 72 percent of US sales; the three-door 16 percent; and the station wagon 12 percent.