April has been quite depressing for the car enthusiast. AMG has announced the inevitable end of its mega bi-turbo V12 engines, Mitsubishi says that the beloved Lancer name will continue on the back of an SUV, and Ford has announced that they will phase out their car model range in North America in favour of going full-on
batshit crazy with trucks and SUVs.
According to Ford CEO, Jim Hackett, the move away from sedans and hatchbacks was to maximise profits, and future models will “combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space, and versatility”. No surprises that of Europe’s new Focus hatch range, only the Focus Active crossover will make it to North American shores.
There is only one other car that won’t be cut from Ford’s lineup, and that is the quintessential American car, the Mustang. Though understandably, Americans would no sooner burn down Dearborn than let go of their four-wheeled symbol of American exceptionalism.
It is a little worrying that Ford, one of the largest auto manufacturers in North America and the world, is declaring that they will be filling their home market with SUVs and trucks. Ford will definitely continue to produce stellar hatchbacks and sedans for the rest of the world, but with a dwindling importance on regular cars in their home market, their willingness to assign resources might not be as resolute.
On the other hand, now with Ford not being burdened with creating a ‘global car’, as was the case with the third-generation Focus and the current Fusion/Mondeo, they can finally get back to producing the sort of Fords that emblazoned its name on the hearts of enthusiasts around the world.
Contrary to the ramblings of some hippie who smokes Jamaican kush while espousing Russian communist ideologies and Hindu mantras out of a German Kombi, the world isn’t exactly snuggling itself in the concept of being “one”.
From a market perspective at least, the world is still a wide and varied tapestry of hugely disparate societies and the topography that defines it. More than just national borders and bureaucratic legislation, markets across the world are far from being homogeneous.
The typical North American driver, who has to ply wide open roads and vast road networks, won’t appreciate having to go cross-country in a small fizzy European hatchback with a buzzy little engine for fear of being heckled by rednecks in F-150s as they are being crushed under an 18-wheeler. On the other hand, drivers in the developing markets won’t be able to afford huge thirsty low-revving American engines or are willing to dole out for a piece of streaming or traffic information tech that isn’t supported in their end of the world.
As an astute colleague once said building individual cars for individual markets is easy, building one for the whole world, that is a nightmare.
More than just the expertise and resources needed to design and develop a car that would meet all the standards and requirements of key markets around the world, these varying requirements might water down the final product as was the case with the third-gen Focus and current Mondeo/Fusion.
Though the third-gen Focus was sharper looking inside and out, the amount of interior space was laughable compared to even its European contemporaries, nevermind the packaging mastery of Japanese makes. Its early foray into electric steering might not have produced a helm as great as its predecessor, but the ride and handling balance had a softer bias and wasn’t quite as incisive as before. To add salt to the critique, the idiotic gear-shifter buttons on its dual-clutch ‘box was definitely the work of North America, as a similar setup was only used on a Chevrolet.
If the Focus felt slightly watered down, the Mondeo/Fusion, on the other hand, might have been a shipwreck. Credit where it was due, it was a fantastically plush and impressively tech-laden cruise missile. The only thing it wasn’t was the canyon carver its predecessor was. Instead of humbling BMWs as it should have, the Mondeo/Fusion was more of a cut-price Volvo where budgets were scrimped on cabin quality.
There was an underlying sense that the Focus and Mondeo/Fusion had a distinct slant towards the wide open straight-as-an-Alabama-parishioner highways of America, instead of the winding liberating-as-Dutch-society European country roads its respective predecessors were built for. And that character change tainted both cars. It may have fallen short of the high bar its predecessors set, though it is more likely that neither one could manage to live up to just how thoroughly its little sibling, the Fiesta, had readjusted the goalposts in its class.
With no need to focus on the North American market anymore Ford might be doing the rest of the world a great favour. They can keep their Mustangs and GTs, we will continue to love and lust after those cars even if they steer like a drunk elephant dying of flatulence because they will always be the symbol of American exceptionalism at its finest.
In the meantime, for the Ford we know, the one that gave us brilliant and delectable creations such as the Escort, the Capri, the original Focus, and the Mondeo, those peasant underdog heroes who stuck it to the aristocracy of cars, those were ultimately the handiwork of Ford of Europe. And with their European counterparts not having to deal with catering to North American needs, they can get to work building cars for the sort of roads that made Europe known for. Just the way we like them.