More MBS Coverage TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Ford Motor Co.'s Focus could look a lot different by the end of the decade.

“Right now, long-term plans for (the) Focus in North America have not been decided,” Paul Mascarenas, vice president-North American vehicle programs, tells Ward's in an interview here.

“We've got a firm plan for the next three to four years. Beyond that we need to develop the right strategy for the future.”

Mascarenas says the C-segment could be a developing sector given the potential of sustained high fuel prices, which may move buyers in a more fuel-efficient direction.

Mascarenas says the future of Focus is being considered.

New entries, such as Chrysler Group's truckish Neon replacement, dubbed the Dodge Caliber, is at least one example of how the small-car sector could look in coming years as auto makers bring new flavor to the econo-box idea.

The Focus, slightly refreshed for '05, bowed in the U.S. in 1999 and immediately became a segment favorite, running neck-and-neck with mainstays such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic before slowing down mid-decade.

The vehicle's 2005 delivery count is off 10% vs. like-2004 on a volume basis through July, the auto maker says. It faces increased pressure in its field with a redesigned Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra, along with the Caliber, set to arrive in the coming months.

Ford has a proven template on which it potentially could remain a major player in the C-segment: the European version of the Focus that is on sale in most markets outside of North America.

The vehicle has launched to rave reviews, and has customer waiting lists in some cases, despite higher sticker prices, Ford says.

However, Mascarenas insists customer expectations concerning small-car value is different in the U.S. The auto maker has to hammer out a business case that makes sense in a market where small-car margins traditionally are slim, nil or even in the red.

Initially, Ford was expected to introduce a completely new Focus sedan and hatchback in the U.S. by the end of the decade, when the third-generation model debuts globally.

Mascarenas says redesigning the vehicle as a traditional sedan and hatchback for the U.S. is not out of the question, but “the possibilities are not limited by the platform,” he says. “I wouldn't rule anything out.” (See related story: Ford's C1 Program Re-Writing Global Rules)

In 2003, Ford launched a vehicle off the new Focus platform in Europe, the C-Max, that could provide a backdrop for Ford's future direction in small cars. Mascarenas points to the popular multi-purpose variant as an example of what the auto maker has successfully done to flex its C1 architecture.

In addition to potentially shaking up the C-segment, Ford may launch a B-segment player in coming years to further expand its car or cross/utility vehicle lineup, depending on body style.

The auto maker studied the option in 2004 and revealed the tall, boxy SYNus concept based on the Fiesta earlier this year as a potential direction for a yet-to-be-announced entry-level car. (See related story: SYNus Signals Ford's B-Segment Intentions)

No matter the exact future product details, Mascarenas sees Focus demand gaining some speed with two new sedans slotted above it in the '05 and '06 model years.

The Five Hundred, launched last fall, and the Fusion, which celebrated Job One Aug. 1, will reestablish Ford's 3-pronged approach to cars. (See related story: Ford Expects 170,000 Fusion Deliveries in 2006)

Says Mascaranas: “The Focus, the Fusion and the Five Hundred is a very logical lineup for Ford Div. for us in terms of size progression and price progression.”

jstoll@primediabusiness.com