WAYNE, MI – Ford Motor Co.’s latest attempt at a global C-car unfolds with next year’s launch of the all-new ’12 Focus.

The car should quell complaints from motoring enthusiasts who long have called for the auto maker to offer its superior European Focus in North America, where a less-expensive, watered-down version is sold.

The next-generation Focus, bowing today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, rides on Ford’s new global C-car platform, which eventually will underpin 10 new models accounting for more than 2 million units worldwide. The new platform replaces three C-segment architectures currently in production.

Ford has yet to announce the new car’s price, but it’s expected to be considerably more-expensive than the current U.S. Focus, which starts at $16,290.

Jim Farley, group vice president-global marketing, hints the ’12 Focus may cost $20,000 or more, but says even at that premium it should have no problem attracting customers.

“For more than a decade, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands (of car buyers) in the U.S. that pay close to $20,000 for a C-segment car,” Farley tells Ward’s at a recent product preview event here. “But they happen to be buying (Honda) Civic EXs and other products…because we haven’t been a mainstream player in the upscale C-segment.”

Because of converging circumstances, including escalating fuel prices that prompted U.S. consumers to downsize from fullsize trucks and SUVs to smaller vehicles, Ford projects substantial growth in the C-segment.

Ward’s data shows C-segment vehicles captured 16.2% of the U.S. market in 2009, up from 15.5% the previous year. As recently as 2006, the segment accounted only for 13.2% of total U.S. sales.

In Europe, C-cars represent 30% of sales, while in the Asia/Pacific and Africa regions the segment accounts for about 25% of car demandsales, Ford says.

Launching concurrently early next year in the U.S. and Europe, the ’12 Focus will offer a bevy of technologies, including the new MyFord Touch driver interface and Sync hands-free, in-car communications and entertainment system.

Additional optional equipment not generally offered in a C-segment car includes keyless entry, push-button start, rear-view camera and Ford’s Active Park Assist system, all of which support Ford’s decision to ask a premium price for the new Focus.

The exterior builds on Ford’s kinetic design language, meant to convey motion even when the vehicle is standing still. The updated sheetmetal more closely resembles the current European Focus.

J Mays, Ford group vice president of design and chief creative officer, says the ’12 Focus was designed “with an acute understanding of global customers” and “combines the best from Europe, North America and Asia.”

The ’12 Focus will be offered in two body styles – a 5-door hatchback and 4-door sedan. In the early days of the global Focus program, product planners debated on whether to offer the hatch in North America, where the body style had fallen out of favor, says Gunnar Herrmann, C-segment vehicle line director.

“But the 5-door is getting popular in all regions, even in China,” Herrmann tells Ward’s, noting that market’s preference for sedans. “What I’ve seen in research in the U.S. is a lot of positive signals that 5-doors could be a significant market.”

Ford marketers expect the hatch model to account for 20%-40% of volume, he notes. “The Millennial generation wants the more dynamic sportier car, and I think (the hatchback) is a more elegant unit.”

While nearly 80% of components in the ’12 Focus will be common around the world, powertrain options are expected to vary.

The vehicle being unveiled today for the North American market is powered by an all-new 2.0L direct-injected 4-cyl. engine.

Official horsepower and torque numbers have yet to be released, but Ford says the new mill should produce an additional 20 hp, compared with the current 2.0L Duratec 4-banger that produces 140 hp. The new 2.0L also is expected to be 10% more fuel efficient.

Overseas, the ’12 Focus is expected to offer a wide variety of engine options, ranging from small-displacement gasoline engines to diesels, says spokesman Mark Schirmer, declining to reveal details.

The new 2.0L will be mated to either a 5-speed manual or a dry-clutch 6-speed Ford PowerShift automatic transmission. Thanks to its dual-clutch setup, the transmission is expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 9% compared with a traditional 4-speed automatic.

The new mill will be assembled at Ford’s Dearborn, MI, engine plant.

The ’12 Focus is expected to be sold in 122 countries and manufactured in Ford plants in Saarlouis, Germany; Wayne, MI; and Chongqing, China.

bpope@wardsauto.com