Ford Motor Co.'s newly unveiled SVT Focus is the first generation of a new, high-performance family, says the brand's chief engineer.

“This is not a one-off,” John Coletti says of the prospective import killer, which bowed last week at the Chicago auto show. “We are committed to this vehicle.”

Asked how the 3-door, 6-speed, front-wheel-drive vehicle might evolve, Mr. Coletti says only: “We're going to do a lot with this vehicle. The future is planned.”

Even the debut version is not finished. Ford says the '02 model's 2L Zetec engine will turn out “at least” 170 hp at 6,800 rpm, but Mr. Coletti suggests higher output is likely because engineers still are working on “refinements.”

Slated for delivery by year's end to Ford's exclusive Special Vehicle Team dealer network, the SVT Focus will list near $18,000.

Based on the ZX3 version of Ford's acclaimed Focus, the SVT is aimed at a youthful, import-oriented market such as southern California. It was conceived as a standalone within the SVT lineup, not an entry-level vehicle to spur future sales of Ford's SVT Cobra Mustang and SVT Lightning F-150 pickup.

It is expected to compete with the Mini Cooper, Acura Integra and VW Golf GTi and Turbo Beetle. Mr. Coletti, head of Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering, predicts conquest sales of 60% to 80%.

“The important thing is to get these people into the Ford family,” Mr. Coletti says, adding the vehicle is “a global car.”

Unfazed by Europe's cutthroat high-performance market, Ford will sell a version of the SVT Focus there, but under a different brand.

The SVT Focus will be assembled at Ford's Focus plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. The car's modified engine will come from the same Ford facility in Chihuahua, Mexico, that supplies Focus with its powerplant.

Production of a planned 7,500 units annually is scheduled to begin in November.