FORD’S third-generation Focus has arrived in local showrooms six months after it went on sale in Europe and the US, but Australians could have been forced to wait another year for the Blue Oval’s vital new small car.
Ford has admitted that supplies of its all-new Focus hatch and sedan range from Germany will remain tight until production for Australia switches to Thailand later next year, but says it chose to launch the European-built Focus this week rather than wait until the third quarter of 2012 for Thai-made models.
As a result, monthly sales of the MkIII Focus will be limited to hundreds rather than the thousands Ford needs to satisfy demand and challenge the top-selling Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Holden’s Adelaide-built Cruze in Australia’s dominant small car market.
Ironically, Ford Australia would have had limitless supplies of the new Focus had the Ford Motor Company not backflipped on its 2007 decision to build 40,000 examples of the new model annually in Broadmeadows for Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and “significant additional export markets” from this year.
Instead, among the casualties will be a delay of the potentially hot-selling Ambiente Powershift dual-clutch automatic until at least November, while buyers of pricier versions that could account for more than half of all local Focus sales will also have to be patient.
Nevertheless, although Ford will not divulge its sales targets, it expects the newcomer to generate “double-digit” sales growth over the outgoing Focus once it receives freer supplies of all four models – $21,990 Ambiente, $24,490 Trend, $27,390 Sport and the flagship $32,590 Titanium – before Thai sourcing eliminates supply issues from Europe in the second half of next year.
Fanning Ford’s hopes for the all-new LW-series Focus is contemporary design inside and out, significant increases in technology, quality, and refinement, greater drivetrain efficiencies (partly due to the availability of Powershift), improved driveability, better safety, more comfort, and the choice of diesel and petrol models.
Speaking to GoAuto at the national launch of the German Focus in Melbourne this week, marketing manager David Katic admitted that – despite supply constraints - Ford Australia was desperate to replace its ageing LV Focus with the company’s redesigned small car in a cut-throat class that currently accounts for almost a quarter of all new-vehicle transactions.
“Our choice was wait another year for Thailand or go with Germany right now and live with the frustrations of not being able to meet demand. But at least that’s better than not launching with this car,” he said.
Mirroring the experience Ford had from January 2009 with the German-made WS Fiesta, which was replaced here by Thai-built WT cars from late 2010, initial LW Focus orders are already heavily swayed towards Sport and Titanium variants.
Spurring interest from early-adopters, the latter in particular brings rare or new-to-segment features like Active Park Assist, Torque Vectoring Control, Adaptive Cruise Control, Voice Control, bi-Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.
“Absolutely, global demand will constrain supply for the new Focus,” Mr Katic said. “But with what we experienced with Fiesta, buyers want style and technology, and that’s what the new Focus has.
“It’s going to replicate what happened with the Fiesta. With the old (2004-2008 WP/WQ Fiesta) we were doing 350-400 per month, and we were able to get around 800 per month out of Europe (with the WS)… but we knew there was a whole lot more volume in it.”
Earlier this year the WT Fiesta broke Australian sales records by exceeded 1400 per month, before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami curtailed production capacity.
“Like Fiesta, with Focus we have to wait until we source from Thailand before we can go the next (volume) step,” Mr Katic added. “And the high series will account for about half of all sales – initially at least anyway.
“With the previous-generation (WP/WQ) Fiesta the up-spec Zetec did only about three per cent of sales, and we thought we were being bold forecasting 20 per cent for the WS, but that’s come in at 50 per cent.
“So what we learned is that if you have an appealingly styled vehicle with high technology for the segment, people will buy them… so we’re very convinced and certainly early sales suggest there is a very strong market for that high series small car segment.
“There’s no archetypal small car buyers these days… buyers might be downsizing but many customers still want the works. While the Mazda3 is our main target, we’re also looking at volume vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf, especially as the new Focus’ package is very similar... so that’s another market that we can tap into.”
Nevertheless, Ford does not believe the entry-level Ambiente will suffer in the marketplace because of its relatively small naturally aspirated petrol engine offering.
“We think the other 50 per cent of Focus sales will be split evenly between Ambiente and Trend,” said Mr Katic.
“And the base car will benefit from being a 1.6-litre. We deliberately specified it with that engine because when you look at the diversity of the small car segment, there are customers with outstanding fuel economy as their priority… and outstanding fuel economy is what our Ambiente offers.
“We targeted these buyers because it is a significant part of the small car market. If you look at competitors like the Hyundai i30 SX 1.6 and Holden Cruze 1.8 they have lower-displacement engines in their C-segment cars, and if you stack up our car’s performance you will find ours is more than competitive.
“The small car segment is truly diverse so that’s what we have tried to manufacture into our Focus range. And if you want even better fuel economy then we can deliver that too with the diesel.”
While Ford’s prediction of the diesel accounting for 30 per cent of all LW Focus sales is not surprising, its high hopes for the new sedan is.
“At the moment we do poorly with the LV Focus sedan, and we think we are going to start off roughly at a 30/70 per cent sedan/hatch sales split with the new model.
“But we are very confident that, as we move forward, the sedan/hatch mix will get to 50/50 because all of the customer feedback suggests the sedan’s styling and dimensions are a big surprise, with many hatch buyers taking interest.”
Right now the Focus wagon and turbocharged 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engine remain “under study” for Australia and, although it is unlikely either derivative will be imported before the middle of 2012, expect the 2.0-litre EcoBoosted Focus XR5 replacement to eventually top the fresh Focus range here.
Also on hold for now are new high-tech driver assistance features available on the range-topping Titanium X in some markets - such as lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, traffic sign recognition, blind spot warning and satellite-navigation – partly due to the resources that regional implementation of most of these devices require.
“You can’t do everything at once,” said Mr Katic. “This year we’ve already launched the Territory facelift and diesel, Mondeo EcoBoost, Falcon EcoLPi and now the new Focus, while the T6 Ranger and Falcon EcoBoost have yet to arrive, so we are extremely busy.
“And we need to establish what we have with the new Focus first before we think about what’s next.”
As we’ve reported, for the time being Australia’s LW Focus range will comprise four distinct models across two body styles with choice of three engines.
A 1596cc 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve Ti-VCT petrol engine powers the CL-replacing Ambiente, producing 92kW of power at 6300rpm and 159Nm of torque at 4000rpm and connected to a five-speed manual transmission (hatch only) or – from November - a six-speed dual-clutch Powershift automatic transmission.
The manual returns fuel consumption of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres and emits 144 grams of CO2 per kilometre when running on 95 RON premium unleaded petrol, as opposed to 6.6L/100km and 154g/km respectively for the 1.6 Powershift.
Trend replaces LX and brings with it an all-new 1999cc 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve GDi direct-injection petrol engine that produces 125kW at 6600rpm and 202Nm at 4450rpm, and which Ford claims is “the most powerful and fuel-efficient normally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine in the small car class”.
Interestingly, the 2.0-litre petrol engine – which is also standard in the Sport and Titanium – matches the 1.6 Powershift’s 6.6L/100km and 154g/km ratings in five-speed manual form, and ups the ante by just 0.1L/100km and 2g/km when paired to the dual-clutch gearbox.
More torque and economy are for the taking in the 1997cc 2.0-litre twin-cam 16-valve turbo-diesel, dubbed TDCi and delivering 120kW at 3750rpm and 350Nm at 2000-3250rpm.
Available as an automatic-only option from launch on all Focus Sport and Titanium variants, the oil-burning powerplant returns 5.5L/100km and pumps out 144g/km of CO2. The diesel arrives in Trend trim level from October.
Representing a clean-sheet redesign espousing Ford’s ‘kinetic’ design theme, styling for the LW Focus commenced in 2007 in the UK, and was then refined in Germany. Attention to better aerodynamic flow both above and below the car has resulted in a competitive 0.297Cd figure on some versions.
A five-star Euro NCAP crash-test performer, the Focus features a bodyshell that is 30 per cent more rigid than before, with 55 per cent of it made from high-strength steel. Additionally, 26 per cent of the vehicle is made from ultra-high-strength steel, including Boron. The upshot is a vastly quieter car – helping address one of the previous models’ biggest failings.
Overall length, width, height and wheelbase measurements are 4358/1823/1484/2648mm (with the sedan being 176mm longer) respectively, while increases of about 50kg sees kerb weights range from 1311kg (1.6 Ambiente hatch) to 1543kg (Titanium TDCi sedan).
Cargo capacity is rated from 277 to 1101 litres (hatch, with all seats folded and a mini-spare) and 372 to 421 litres (sedan with a mini-spare).
As before, front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and coil springs, while the Focus is famous for pioneering a multi-link rear suspension arrangement in the small car class. Nowadays the latter is attached via a separate subframe to decrease noise/vibration/harshness.
In the name of improved economy, lower emissions and lower cost, and with the exception of the Ambiente 1.6 Powershift model, Ford switched from a conventional hydraulic power steering system to an electric power-assisted (EPAS) rack-and-pinion steering system for the third-generation car.
The base Focus includes remote central locking, power windows, trip computer, air-conditioning, adjustable steering, Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, six-speaker audio, six airbags – including side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers – ABS brakes, electronic stability control and hill-start assist.
Stepping up to the Trend gains buyers 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, rear parking sensors, body-coloured door-handles, cruise control, a leather gearshift knob and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat.
An option pack includes automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and ‘follow-me-home’ lighting.
These features are standard equipment on the Focus Sport, which also gains 17-inch alloys, a rear spoiler on the hatch, heated power-adjustable side mirrors with indicator lamps, LED tail-lights on the hatch, an upgraded Sony audio system with nine speakers and colour screen, dual-zone climate-control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Eco Mode driver information system, sports seats, ambient cabin lighting, leather-clad steering wheel, centre console with armrest, illuminated vanity mirrors, a folding centre rear armrest and front scuff plates.
The Titanium in Powershift-only format boasts 18-inch alloys, active park assist that can park the car in 24 seconds using front and rear radar sensors, keyless entry and starting, partial leather seats, trip computer, four-way power driver’s seat adjustment and heated front seats.
An optional Sports Pack includes adaptive cruise control, bi-Xenon headlights with cornering lamps, LED running lights and a powered sunroof.
With a 5.5 per cent market share in the first six months of 2011, the outgoing Focus has enjoyed a 28.4 per cent improvement over last year’s disappointing sales results, but the LV still trails the leading Mazda3, Cruze, Corolla, i30, Lancer and Golf to sit at an underachieving seventh place.
Ford Australia vice-president for sales, marketing and service, Beth Donovan, is confident the LW has what it takes to thrust Ford back to small-car segment leadership – a position it has not enjoyed since the Laser’s halcyon days of 1981 to 1990.
“We should be able to do what the Mazda3 has done in this space,” she said.
Since 1998 some 10 million Focus cars have been sold worldwide, with Australian sales commencing relatively late in the lifecycle of the Mk1 ‘LR’ series in September 2002. The Mk2 Focus (LS, LT, LV) was introduced here in June 2005.