Why the American Car Industry Doesn't Get It
Why Ford USA dont get it and why the answer is under their faces
Est. Reading Time 10mins.
Note: All MPG given are converted to US MPG
For some perspective, I am English and a huge car lover. Specifically I have always loved American cars. For all their well documented faults over the years I have always been a fan. Although like most people this love purely is for the muscle car / high end sports car end of the market. Everyone should appreciate a thumping V8 muscle car, pure and simple fun. Having a huge interest in cars, I like reading US online magazines about their perspectives on our cars (UK), as well as reading about US market only vehicles. From this I was excited to see Ford USA finally deciding to release a small car in their home market, the Ford Europe designed Fiesta. A sign of changing times?
Those who know will realise that despite good early sales Ford USA have made a few shocking choices, which can be seen to sum up the problems these once great American car manufacturers are continuing to make. While Ford USA and GM have been losing money for years in the US and known for poor build quality compared to foreign cars, Ford Europe however have been known for the complete opposite for over a decade now. Since the release of the original Focus, virtually every Ford since in the UK has been well made, critically claimed and a sales success. Below I will go into why Ford USA need to just look over the pond for how to fix their issues and radically change their domestic lineup.
First off Ford USA
Imagine if tomorrow you walked into a Ford dealership and they offered a small family hatchback that looked nice, had every electronic gadget you could want like parking assist, mp3, bluetooth etc, and did 61MPG at the price of a decent speced normal model.
Or imagine you have kids, and require a 7 seater that has bags of room, luxuries etc to keep the kids and yourself comfortable and still does 40MPG?
You would be pretty impressed especially if those cars were stylish, modern and were actually well known for being class leaders to drive? Well you can, just catch a plane to England tomorrow.
The cars are the Ford Focus TDCI and the Ford S-Max.
And what do Americans get offered?
You have to ask why you would be patriotic and buy American if Ford treat you like this.
You do not need to know anything about cars to know that selling a brand new item based off something over 10 year old is going to fair badly against its rivals. Well the US market Ford Focus is based on the original car from 1998. Shockingly out of touch in terms of dynamics, and it is only available in a saloon shape or randomly a coupe? Looks are opinion, but in mine that Focus saloon has a face only a mother could love and the rear is even worse. Tacky chrome from the 1980s create a "bold" front end, which makes the once stylish Focus look cheap. I know the US market prefers saloons to hatches traditionally (is this still the case, despite what Ford USA want you to believe), but I think people would rather have the better car. A hatchback design is also much more practical especially for families, which is what the Focus is aimed at, due to easier access to the rear of the car. Only one engine is available in the US too and it is an old hat 2.0 petrol which does up to 35MPG. The funny thing is Ford USA boast that it does "up to 35MPG" like its a good thing. The worse engine in the UK line up for MPG is the high performance Focus RS which does 33MPG but has over 300BHP and is an out and out hot hatch which just happens to seat five.
For those who need seven seats it gets even worse. All you can buy is a ridiculously huge car, the Ford Flex. Whilst the Flex does look kinda cool, in an in your face mixed with Range Rover kind of way, no one in the world who would buy that car actually needs a car that size. It is simply far bigger than you would ever need. It is actually seven inches longer than a Range Rover! And you would never buy a car like that for performance so why would the most efficient engine available be a 3.5 litre v6 which struggles to do 25MPG? A diesel offering 35MPG would be much more appropriate and faster in the real world due to its mid range pull.
Ford have even managed to ruin their own hero of the MPG for America the Fiesta. Instead of releasing the smart looking 3 Door alongside the 5 Door, they spend unnecessary money developing a horrible looking saloon that isnt small in the slightest defeating the object. Basically for price reasons but why not not spend millions developing this car and release a cheaper version of the 3 door? The Fiesta is hailed in the US as being fuel efficient, yet Ford USA only released it in the US with the largest engine you can get from the European line up. Sure 40MPG is ok for any car, but imagine how much praise they would of got if they released the 64MPG Duratorq we get in the UK? Want petrol, why not the 53MPG 1.25? It makes no sense to decide you need a car that's small and fuel efficient, so take the car from Europe that's a proven sales success, and make it bigger and only release the least efficient engine. Why settle for class average when they would be class leaders? Again looks are opinion but what would you prefer to own? I understand a lot of people need 5 doors, but given the choice of a 3 door it would be more appealing to younger buyers and those without the need for rear doors.
US Top Spec (SEL Sedan 38MPG) vs UK Top Spec (Zetec-S 53MPG)
Another way Ford have missed the beat is the release of the recent Fiesta based Transit Connect. Why would a van driver want a vehicle that will do high annual mileage running between jobs with a petrol engine? It's all about keeping costs low, and the 2.0 Ford USA offer doing 26MPG is shockingly bad. In Europe it only comes in diesel, the logical choice for torque and MPG (does 45MPG). For carrying loads you need torque, Ford USA have big pickups wit diesle engines for this reason, why not their smaller vans and trucks? Imagine the savings for a small one man business on their own in just one year over 15,000 miles?
The Ford World Car Program
As much as we like V8s etc, the fact is very few people need one in a family car, and many would be happy for punchy engine with good torque that is fun. 0-60 times, bhp and "sportiness" are largely irrelevant in everyday driving, where torque (e.g. pulling power in gear) is king and unless you are a car fan you probably dont care anyway. You just want a fuel efficient, good looking car.
The Fiesta was supposed to be the first hint towards a world car for Ford. The idea being save money on development by making one car for every market. The first truely world car will be the next Focus which is out soon. Makes sense, but if the Fiesta is anything to go by Ford USA will change everything and only offer the least efficient engines. Keep it simple Ford and it will sell, as it does in huge numbers in Europe to much praise.
Ford's current MPV for the European market the C-Max is due out in US midway through next year and does show some promise. Although no diesel is offered its rumoured to feature the latest 1.6 ecoboost engine, however also a underpowered 2.5 4 cylinder. Here is hoping that Ford realise that families generally want cheaper running costs, not thirsty engines in their MPVs.
The American Diesel Issue
Why aren't Americans taking up diesels, but love hybrids? This could be a hub on its own, however there a number of reasons why. Firstly there have been very few diesels on sale since the 80s. Back then diesels were loud, dirty, gutless and generally poor. Oldsmobile in the 80s modified a petrol engine to a diesel. It was given much advertising from GM but was a hopeless flop. Woefully unreliable, and all the poor traits mentioned previously, it alone effectively sealed the fate of diesels in the US for a generation. Fast forward the late 1990s and high fuel prices (3x that of the US, even now) meant that diesels became a ideal option for European buyers.
From BMW and Mercedes to VW and Ford, diesels started to become the primary sales for car manufacturers, especially in the luxury sector. In 2001 diesels became even more important as EU laws made co2 emissions directly relate to road tax in the UK and many countries in Europe. This meant European manufacturers put huge efforts into improving their diesel engines for efficiency, which in turn makes them more powerful and drivable. And if you want to sell they need to be quieter, cleaner etc. which they now are and have been for a long time. From small hatchbacks with 1.3 and smaller diesel engines to V8 Audi's all are turbo charged much more economical compared to their petrol counterparts, and in the real world faster than their equivalent petrols.
VW have released their impressive TDI Jetta in the US in small numbers, as have BMW with the 335d, however Ford and GM have failed to capitalise on the diesel movement in the US. Whilst the US media loves hybrids, in Europe they pale in the real world MPG compared to diesels. This depends on your type of driving, but if you do most of your driving not in towns then diesels will be more efficient than the comparative sized hybrid. Food for thought and certainly not the smelly smoky underpowered engines they used to be.