NICE, France – When the high-performance ’13 Focus hits U.S. dealerships this fall, it will be the first ST-badged Ford vehicle to be sold in North America.

Although the U.S. auto maker has a well-established performance brand with its Special Vehicle Teams, the decision was made not to badge the new high-powered Focus as an SVT.

Lisa Schoder, Ford Focus ST marketing manager, says SVT is not going away. Instead, it will be used to distinguish performance vehicles sold exclusively in North America, while global performance cars will carry the ST designation.

With the Focus, “we’re launching the ST brand in North America,” Schoder tells WardsAuto during a recent media event here. “We recognize the (ST’s) European heritage and want to stay true to it.”

While new to North America, ST-badged cars have been sold in Europe since Ford launched the Mondeo ST220 in 2002.

The auto maker’s SVT division, established in 1993, is best known for creating high-performance versions of some of Ford’s most popular vehicles, including the Mustang muscle car and F-150 fullsize pickup. The group also produced a Focus SVT version that was sold from 2002-2004.

Schoder says Ford values the name recognition the SVT brand brings in North America. But when it came time to launch the Focus ST here, product planners never considered badging it an SVT.

“When you look at our small-car lineup, a lot of the engineering is led out of Europe, so it made sense to really embrace the European-ness (with the Focus ST),” she says.

The ST badge also is being introduced in Australia and China. Schoder says there likely will be other global Ford ST performance vehicles, including the Fiesta ST B-car, which will be offered in Europe early next year.

Ford has yet to say whether it will offer the Fiesta ST in North America, but it’s widely believed there are plans to do so.

The decision to introduce the ST brand in North America is backed by a marketing strategy aimed at performance enthusiasts. Schoder says SVT owners are aware of European STs and are eagerly awaiting the launch of the new Focus version.

“The real grassroots enthusiasts in North America know about this car. We’re tapping into those consumers – the guys that were all over (online) forums saying ‘Ford, please bring us this car.’”

Once the decision was made to greenlight the Focus ST, which was shown in concept form at the 2010 Paris auto show, Schoder, other Ford marketers and SVT engineers invited a group of North American enthusiasts to discuss what they’d like to see in the car.

As it turned out, their wants and needs were similar to the Europeans’. “When it comes to this vehicle, the core values of performance (and) driving dynamics, coupled with everyday usability and functionality, echo across the globe,” Schoder says.

Rather than launch a massive ad campaign to promote the Focus ST, Ford largely is relying on word-of-mouth by enthusiasts.

The auto maker is launching the Focus ST Performance Academy in New York on June 30, followed by stops in Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The driving events will take place on Saturdays in June, July and August in each market on closed courses. They will feature a fleet of Focus STs for professional-performance driver training, timed autocross competition and pre-event racing instruction.

“Our fans have expressed extremely high interest in this car, but we know the proof is in the pudding,” Schoder says. “We want ST fans, as well as drivers of competitive vehicles, to be able to taste this car firsthand.”

In addition to the Performance Academy, a TV spot about the Focus ST currently is running on a number of networks, including ESPN. The high-performance model also was featured in the recently released video game called Forza Motorsports 4.

Schoder says Ford already has 2,000 pre-orders for the ’13 Focus ST. She anticipates U.S. sales of 8,000-10,000 units and 50,000-60,000 globally, but notes the auto maker will build to demand.

The Focus ST is powered by a 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost inline 4-cyl. engine producing 252 hp and 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm) of torque. The same engine won a Ward’s 10 Best Engines award in 2012 for its application in the Ford Edge.

Prices for the Focus ST will begin at $24,495, including destination and delivery. The car will be built at Ford’s Wayne, MI, plant, as well as in Saarlouis, Germany.

bpope@wardsauto.com