ANN ARBOR, MI – Ford is putting more emphasis on performance-oriented vehicles under the leadership of Raj Nair, group vice president-global product development, a top engineer says.

The all-new ’14 Fiesta ST B-car is the latest to enter Ford’s performance lineup, joining vehicles such as the Focus ST, SVT Raptor and Shelby Cobra GT500.

Jamal Hameedi, chief engineer-global performance vehicles, says Nair, a motorsports enthusiast who races motorcycles and cars, represents a new kind of senior management support, Hameedi tells WardsAuto at a Fiesta ST drive event here. “Raj is a real car guy and we love to have him at a very influential position.”

Hameedi says Nair has intensified Ford’s passion for performance vehicles that was renewed under Nair’s predecessor, Derrick Kuzak.

“He takes that enthusiasm to another level,” Hameedi says. “He’s a little more hands-on then Derrick was and gets into the cars a little more often than Derrick did.”

Ford recently integrated its two performance teams – SVT in North America and the RS Group in Europe – into one global unit, although the separate names remain intact. The RS Group will be responsible for developing smaller performance cars such as the Fiesta ST, while SVT will engineer larger vehicles, such as the SVT Raptor pickup.

Hameedi says the merging of the two units allows Ford to offer a vehicle such as the Fiesta ST in North America.

“We couldn’t have afforded to engineer the car in Europe and re-engineer the car in North America,” he says. “So what we did is engineer it once in Europe for all global markets, and be almost fanatical making sure (global) customers get the exact same car.”

Hameedi says Ford has developed a global performance DNA that engineers strictly adhere to during the development process. Everything from how the steering feels to the fit and finish is benchmarked against the established DNA.

Ford doesn’t break out sales figures for its performance vehicles, but Hameedi says Focus ST deliveries are about 5% of total base-model Focus sales, and the same take rate is expected for the Fiesta ST when it goes on sale next month.

Despite the small volumes, Hameedi says Ford performance vehicles contribute to the auto maker’s ongoing financial success in which it has posted a profit in each of the past 16 quarters.

“We’re a very significant business contribution to Ford’s bottom line,” he says. “We are profitable; we make money doing these performance cars. Also, it’s a showcase for some of our really advanced engineering capability.”

Showcasing the auto maker’s engineering prowess and its affinity for performance vehicles also is an important engineer-recruiting tool. The automotive industry has struggled recently to attract and retain young engineering talent, and performance cars such as the Fiesta ST help in that effort, Hameedi says.

“You can bet at every recruiting event we go to at the top engineering schools there are Focus STs, Shelby GT500s and Raptors,” he says. “I think cars and trucks like that capture the passion of a lot of young engineers.”

Ford is mum on what vehicle is next to receive the performance treatment, but Hameedi offers a clue to how the process unfolds.

“If you look at our history, Focus, Mustang and F-150 have always been core (vehicles) that have had performance nameplates,” he says. “If we see pockets of opportunity, or something special we could do with another nameplate, we definitely look at those, too.”

bpope@wardsauto.com