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Exclusive: Chinese Ford Focus spied testing in Australia

Chinese riddle: The Chinese badge can be clearly seen on the rear hatch of this left-hand-drive Ford Focus snapped by GoAuto in Melbourne.

Ford entrusts Chinese Focus to Australian engineering team for a make-over

20 Jun 2017

FORD’S Australian-based Asia-Pacific Product Development Centre appears to have been given the task of revving up the Focus small car for China where, after years of growth, Blue Oval car sales are down 11 per cent this year.

GoAuto snapped these images of a left-hand-drive Focus hatchback test car near Ford’s engineering headquarters in Broadmeadows, on Melbourne’s northern fringe.

The undisguised current-model car has the Chinese-language badge on the rear hatch, indicating that Ford is unfussed about car-spotters seeing it on open roads as it is evaluated by local engineers.

Launched in China in 2015 after being unveiled at the Shanghai motor show, the Focus sedan and hatch have been made for the Chinese market at the joint-venture Changan Ford’s new Harbin plant in north-east China since February this year.

Ford sold almost 220,000 Focus cars in China last year, up 8.0 per cent.

Offered with a choice of 1.0-, 1.5- and 1.6-litre petrol engines, the Chinese version of the Focus is Ford’s second-best passenger car seller in the world’s biggest motor market, behind the Australian-developed Escort sedan.

While the Escort is based on the Focus, it is pitched as a slightly cheaper, simpler small car with a sole engine choice – a 1.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder – and single body style.

The Escort has consistently featured in the monthly top 10 sales charts, but Focus is down the ranks somewhat. In May, Focus came 17th on the sales ladder with 12,257 sales, compared with the Escort’s 18,718 sales for eighth place.

Ford Asia-Pacific spokesperson Sinead Phipps declined to comment on the Focus test car spotted in Melbourne.

However, the model must be almost due for a makeover, especially as such cars are under pressure in China where the central government has lifted incentives on small-engine variants.

Rivals such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Nissan and Toyota have been aggressively marketing their small cars, with Nissan’s Sylphy (Pulsar sedan), GM’s Cruze-based Buick Excelle and the Toyota Corolla all applying the blowtorch with discounted prices.

In May, when sales of Chinese-made vehicles marked time, Ford sales in China dipped 3.0 per cent.

Reports in the Chinese press suggest Ford China has a new EcoSport compact SUV in the wings for a second-half 2017 launch, but so far there has been no mention of a revised Focus, indicating such a car could be earmarked for a 2018 or 2019 debut.

Focus development is usually the province of Ford of Europe, at its Cologne R&D centre, but because the Chinese version will not necessary fall into line with the global rollout of western-market Focus replacements, the Australia-based operation – now well versed on plugging holes in the Asia-Pacific product portfolio – appears to have been tapped to give it some form of makeover.

It is just another task for Ford Asia-Pacific’s engineers who are flat out working on several new-model programs at their three facilities in Victoria.

As GoAuto has reported, the new-generation Ranger ute and its Everest and Bronco SUV spin-offs due in 2019-20 are well in evidence at the You Yangs proving ground and public roads around the state, while a revised Figo light car – based on the Fiesta – appears to be on the way for India, judging by the numbers under test.

In December, then Ford Motor Company president Mark Fields flew to Australia to announce a 50 per cent budget raise, to $450 million, for Ford Asia-Pacific’s vehicle development operations this year to cover the costs of all the extra development activity it has undertaken, including versions of the Ranger for North America and China for the first time, as well as what pundits speculate will be a new Bronco large SUV based on the next-generation Everest.

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