Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

GENEVA – With the major auto show season winding down, Ford Motor Co. soon will make a decision on whether it will offer a 3-door version of its upcoming Fiesta B-car for sale in the U.S., an official tells Ward’s here.

Ford so far has committed to only offering a 4-door sedan in the U.S., although a 3-door Verve concept, based on the Fiesta platform, was shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

“We’ve been at all the auto shows, (and) we’ve been getting a lot of feedback in person,” Jim Farley, group vice president-marketing and communications, says at a media event here prior to the Geneva auto show press preview.

“We really want to get more qualitative research,” he says. “Showing a vehicle online, we know the response we’d get: ‘Build the thing tomorrow.’”

Despite Ford having sold a hatchback version of the Focus C-segment car in the U.S. for many years, Farley says re-entering the hatchback arena is “still something you have to be right about.”

As for whether a Lincoln B-car is in the offering to combat the new BMW 1-Series and other upcoming premium small cars, Farley is non-committal.

“The small-car segment is growing, and for challenger brands you have to look at every segment,” he says.

“For Lincoln, I can’t say one way or the other. But everybody’s noticed the success of (BMW’s) Mini. It’s tough to execute (a subcompact based on the Fiesta) for a Lincoln. It would have to be a very different kind of concept.”

Farley, who is seeing the European Fiesta here for the first time, says the version the U.S. will get in 2010 will have different suppliers than the one being built by Ford of Europe, but colors and trims will be identical globally.

“You’ll see differences,” he says of the production model. “Some more substantial than the overall vehicle concept.”

Production of the European Fiesta begins this fall at Ford’s plant in Cologne, Germany, while its Valencia, Spain, facility will add capacity in 2009. The U.S. Fiesta is expected to be built at the auto maker’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant.

Farley, who was vice president of Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion youth division not too long ago, believes that experience will come in handy in retailing the Fiesta.

“I sold a lot of Scions and let’s face it – the more European I can make this, the better it’s going to be for the American consumer,” he says of the Fiesta.

The new subcompact will go on sale this year in Europe, but the U.S. will have to wait until 2010 to get the vehicle, something Ford of Europe CEO John Fleming says is a result of the high cost of European manufacturing (the model for the U.S. will be built elsewhere), as well as strong global demand for small vehicles.

As in the U.S., where car buyers last year flocked to subcompacts and small cross/utility vehicles, Fleming says a downsizing phenomenon also is being seen in Europe, at the same time the C- and D-segments are shrinking.

Still, he doesn’t see the global industry coming together as one on matters of efficiency and emissions.

“I’m not sure I can honestly say I can see an alignment,” he says, noting he has yet to see a “governmental drive” for all countries to get on the same regulatory page.

However, “I think it will coalesce over time. Technology’s going to take us there, and legislation is going to take us there.”

Ford of Europe is counting on its E-kinetic technology to improve the greenhouse-gas emissions from many of its current models to hybrid-electric vehicle-like levels, while at the same time studying full HEVs.

“It’s something we’re looking at and asking ourselves do we need to address (this),” he says. Other advanced powertrain technologies such as turbocharged gas engines and start-stop technology, which he classifies as micro-hybrids, also are being explored.

“We know we have hybrids in the U.S.,” Fleming says. “The question for us in Europe is affordability and smaller vehicles. Sure, hybrids are accepted, (but) it’s still relatively small numbers at the moment. And they’re expensive.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com