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Stick no sticking point

Lost in transmission: The Ford Fiesta Econetic will be available only in manual form.

Ford says the ultra-frugal Fiesta Econetic will woo buyers despite being manual-only

19 Oct 2009

FORD Australia president Marin Burela says he is confident potential buyers of the Fiesta Econetic – soon to be Australia’s most economical new car – will not be put off by the lack of an automatic transmission when it is launched on December 1.

This is despite the fact that key rivals such as the Toyota Prius, Mini D and Honda Civic Hybrid all offer a self-shifting gearbox as either standard or as an option.

Nevertheless, Ford will not reveal how many of its diesel-powered greenie Fiestas it intends to sell, saying instead that it is “too early to tell” at this stage. The first shipment of 200 cars will arrive by year’s end.

Speaking at the media unveiling of the five-speed manual-only WS Fiesta Econetic in Melbourne last week, Mr Burela said all drivetrain options were considered during the car’s development, which he helped lead during his most recent stint in Europe.

Mr Burela revealed that the resulting manual-only configuration settled by Ford of Europe was in accordance to the needs of consumers in every single market where the model will be sold (including in Australia), particularly in the area of affordability, since achieving a relatively low entry price against the more expensive hybrids was at the heart of the Fiesta Econetic project.

27 center imageLeft: Ford Fiesta Econetic. Below: Ford Australia president Marin Burela.

However, the subsequent global success of the latest-generation Fiesta in general, and the Econetic model in particular, has since convinced Ford that further refinement of the series – including the creation of an auto version – is in order.

So far 60,000 of the latter have been sold in Europe alone, according to Mr Burela, compared to the 3000 or so forecast when the model was mooted in the early stages of development.

“When we assessed how an Econetic derivative needed to evolve we took into consideration all of the users globally – both in Europe and Australia, and in other markets as well,” he said.

Mr Burela said he believed Australian consumers would respond strongly to the Econetic’s industry-leading fuel economy story and realise that the manual drivetrain configuration was an essential ingredient to it.

He likened the manual-only gearbox specification to the Fiesta three-door model, which has found success despite traditional consumer resistance to three-door bodystyles in the light-car class in Australia.

“I had the same question asked to me (about the sales potential of the three-door Fiesta at launch) … and the facts prove that it has been a success, even though Australia has traditionally been a four-door sedan and five-door hatch market,” he said.

“So I don’t think that no automatic is an impediment of any sort. I think what we have here is provide the best package that delivers fuel economy in an affordable way.

“If you put in an automatic then you move into another cost category because of the automatic transmission.”

Nevertheless, an automatic-style transmission should eventually be offered with the Econetic during the current model’s lifecycle.

However, whether this ends up being a conventional torque converter item such as the one available on the Mini D that uses a variation of the same 1.6-litre TDCi Duratorq engine that Ford shares with BMW, Peugeot, Citroen and Volvo, or a Powershift dual-clutch item as per the gearbox in the Focus TDCi, remains to be seen.

“There are other things that we are working on, to talk the honest truth, things that I cannot talk about right now, but this is the start of a journey, and one that we will continue to work on,” Mr Burela said.

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