"Both private and corporate buyers were quick to appreciate the benefits that EcoBoost engine technology could provide..."
It seems a very long time ago now that Ford's family hatchback offering was the unremarkable Escort. Since 1998, the brand has had the class-leading Focus model to offer buyers in this segment, a car that rivals have tried and repeatedly failed to unseat from its number one position n the market.
To maintain that showing of course, Ford has needed to continually improve it, most recently with updated styling and an even more efficient range of 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engines, plus a frugal line-up of EcoBoost petrol powerplants. Since the beginning of this year, we've been putting an EcoBoost-engined Focus to the test, day-in, day-out to try and identify the key reasons behind this car's enduring sales success story. To help with the process, we recently took the opportunity for a chat with Ford's Focus Brand Manager David Calder, the man tasked with keeping this model's pre-eminent position in the marketplace.
A key reason for the car's recent success, he points out, has been the strong take-up of his brand's highly efficient range of EcoBoost engines. These aim to offer customers increased power from smaller lighter units and deliver increased fuel efficiency as well as lower carbon emissions. EcoBoost technologies have allowed Ford to deliver fuel efficiency and CO2 savings of up to 20%. For the future, the company plans to further develop its EcoBoost thinking by refining every element of the engine's design for even greater efficiency and more accessible power.
When the Blue Oval brand initially introduced its EcoBoost range, first with a 1.0-litre unit and later with the 1.5-litre powerplant we've been trying, it worried that customers would take time to adjust to the fact that these engines could respectively deliver the power of the 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol units they replaced. As it turned out, they needn't have worried. Both private and corporate buyers were very quick to appreciate the benefits that this new technology could provide.
It's also on offer in more potent form too. The sporty ST Focus model uses a 2.0-litre 250PS version of this unit, while the top Focus RS flagship hot hatch gets a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine with a thumping 350PS. Diesel power in the range is provided by 1.5-litre TDCi turbocharged units of either 105PS or 120PS, plus there are 2.0-litre TDCI turbocharged units offering 150PS or 185PS, the latter powerplant also being available in the Focus ST.
To understand what customers require, Ford has continually looked to improve all aspects of the Focus by reacting to their feedback through on-going research from traditional customer clinics as well as new informal channels that are now found on social media sites. David Calder remembers a good example of this - a customer who posted a complete detailed analysis of his fifth Focus on the Facebook website describing what he liked and disliked about the car. As a consequence, Ford's engineers in Cologne are now studying this informal report with a view to further improving the car's functionality and specification.
From other feedback channels like formal customer clinics, the brand has increasingly better understood how much today's Focus owners want enhancements like the possibility for more personalisation of their vehicle. The brand also knows that these people are looking for cleaner engines, sporting design cues, greater tax benefits and improved electronic presentation within the car. Ultimately, it's necessary for a Focus to exude style whilst delivering even more for less.
Brand loyalty helps too of course and that's been aided over the years by Ford's motorsport participation which in rallying has been very Focus-led. Enthusiasts remember winning world star drivers like Carlos Sainz and the late Colin McRae. Models like the Ford GT supercar and the brand's participation in iconic races like the Le Mans 24-hours has also helped to raise the sporting profile of the Blue Oval name.
Since 1967, Formula Ford has also provided would-be racers with an entry-level racing category that is affordable yet utterly competitive thanks largely to the Ford engines that feature in each car. Originally powered by a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine from a Ford Cortina GT saloon, the formula has now moved on to feature Ford's latest EcoBoost technology. In 2012, new specifications and regulations were introduced, allowing improvements in chassis design along with the introduction of the Focus-derived engine. Unlike its predecessors, the EcoBoost unit utilises power from a turbocharger as well as a sequential gearbox and with this package, a modern Formula Ford single seater puts out 165PS, with identical engine calibration for every competitor's car making for very keen and close racing.
As David Calder emphasises, Ford continues to place a lot of importance on its involvement in motorsport, the idea being to bring excitement to the brand and provide emotional contact with customers. In addition, this participation also creates a rigorous proving environment for new technology that can eventually feed into the production vehicles.
Cars like our Focus. We've been looking at this model through the eyes of a private buyer but of course much of its sales success has been founded on take-up from business buyers. With this in mind, David Calder and his team spend a lot of time communicating with fleet users to understand their experiences with the car and learn how it performs in this challenging environment.
It all explains just why this model remains at the top of the tree, seventeen years after its original introduction. With continuing attention to detail and an obvious willingness to seek customer feedback, you can't imagine that situation will change any time soon. The Focus success story continues.