Highs and lows
The recent highs and lows, the predicted flatness of the segment as well as the difficulty most automakers have had turning a profit from minicars has convinced manufacturers such as Ford Motor and Nissan to leave the sector.
Ford will end sales of the Ka after a two-decade run and offer a pair of vehicles in the subcompact segment: the Ka+ and the Fiesta. The Ka+, which is just a few millimeters shorter than the Fiesta, will be Ford’s entry model for Europe. The current Ka shared a platform and factory with the Fiat 500, but it never came close to matching the success of its sibling model. "Either you partner with someone in this segment or you’re out," said a Ford official, who didn’t want to be named.
The Ka+, which is 3929mm long compared with 3620mm for the current Ka, goes on sale in the autumn. Ford says the arrival of the Ka+ allows it to reposition the next-generation Fiesta more upmarket when it debuts early next year. Ford said it will drop the Fiesta's Ambiente base trim line to leave the subcompact segment's entry price level to the Ka+.
Disappointing sales of the Ka, which had a volume of just 12,975 units through April compared with 68,068 for the Fiat 500, was "partly our fault," said a Ford source who declined to be named. "Fiat really turned the 500 into its own brand and we could have done more with the Ka, too. But when you're completely focused on returning to profitability [which Ford of Europe did in 2015 after three years of losses], investing more time and effort into a segment that on good days barely makes money is just not a priority," the source said.
Nissan, meanwhile, is reluctant to rejoin the segment after dropping the India-built Pixo in 2013. "If you look at the volume and expected profit from those vehicles, I'm not convinced there's a significant place for an A-platform car in Europe," Trevor Mann, Nissan's chief performance officer, told Automotive News Europe. Nissan and alliance partner Renault have also said they don't plan to re-engineer the successful India-built Kwid for Europe.