Focus marketing manager says customers in the C-segment are more apt to already know how to drive a manual transmission or willing to learn.
Ford Focus refreshed for ’15 model year.
DEARBORN, MI –will offer its 1.0L direct-injected, turbocharged EcoBoost engine in the refreshed ’15 Focus C-car only with a 6-speed manual transmission, despite U.S. consumers overwhelming preference for automatic gearboxes.
The 1.0L Focus is offered with a dual-clutch transmission in other parts of the world, but executives say that does not make sense for the U.S.
“We’re finding that different markets react differently to different types of automatics, so a dual-clutch automatic transmission is not what North American customers are used to,” says Raj Nair, group vice president-global product development.
The dual-clutch transmission is the only automatic offered in versions of the Focus with larger engines and has drawn consumer complaints for abrupt shifts, an issuesays it has addressed with software updates.
Seema Bardwaj, Focus marketing manager, says the Focus lineup as a whole has a 12%-13% manual transmission take rate, higher than the industry average.
Focus customers, she says, are more likely to prefer a manual or be willing to learn how to operate one.
“We see younger customers who think it’s cool and think they are better engaged with the vehicle (with a manual),” she tells WardsAuto. “We see that in that customer that you may not see in other vehicle segments.”
Despite Focus customers’ penchant for manuals, Bardwaj admits having only a manual offering on the 1.0L may affect take rates for the fuel-sipping engine. Official fuel-economy estimates have yet to be released, but the Fiesta B-car with the 1.0L is EPA-rated at 37 mpg (6.3 L/100 km) combined city/highway.
“At the end of the day the manual transmission is going to keep us at a lower-than-we-anticipated take rate (for the 1.0L EcoBoost),” she says, hinting an automatic version may be offered in the future.
Bardwaj says offering only a manual with the Focus 1.0L fits with the automaker’s strategy when it launches a new engine.
“Whenever we have a new engine we want to make sure it performs well in one avenue before we move it further along,” she says, noting the 1.0L Fiesta with a manual transmission sells well. “And it’s better way to get the fuel economy.”
Ford is hoping the new 1.0L will light some fire under Focus sales, which were down 4.6% last year vs. 2012 and are off 16.2% through March, according to WardsAuto data. In comparison, the Upper Small segment in which the Focus resides gained 4.4% last year and is off just 3.7% through March.
Bardwaj expects future growth for the segment moving forward. Despite the declining sales, Ford says the Focus is the top-selling nameplate in the world. However, that claim has been disputed by, which sells the Corolla under different names in different parts of the world.
“I still see the segment getting very strong, or at the very least not losing any share in the next several years,” she says. “The midsize segment and this segment play a lot of back-and-forth tag.”
The biggest challenge facing the Focus comes from Japanese competitorsand , who saw their Corolla and Civic C-segment entries grow U.S. sales 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively, last year.
Bardwaj says Focus offers a “fun-to-drive” factor that is absent in the Corolla and Civic that gives it a competitive edge. She also notes incentives play a large part in whether an automaker gains or sheds market share in the C-segment.
“We’re always cognizant of how much we spend (on incentives),” she says. “In an ideal world, if I price the car right I’ll have to spend some, but I shouldn’t have to spend a lot. But if the marketplace is spending it some might say that makes it okay to spend, although I don’t necessarily agree with that.”