Fiesta Reborn in the Verve, Ford's Got Some Nerve
At the moment I was given a sneak peek at Ford's sporty Verve concept, I knew it was love at first sight.
Here before my eyes was a sleek sedan. It was sexy, shapely, sporty. It looked fast and it had four doors. It answered my motherly personal need for the function of a four-door with the price-point, performance, and efficiency of a coupe.
It was presented to us at the Detroit Auto Show as simply a concept showcasing "the style, technology, premium materials, and substantial content that will set it apart when Ford's new small cars go on sale in North America in 2010." That statement, combined with the announcement at the Frankfurt Motor show that a three-door version of this vehicle would be available for sale in Europe, gave me hope that I might someday actually be able to own this vehicle.
Ford explained that the Verve was developed through their new global product development system, a program that builds on the manufacturer's European small-car expertise to stake a bigger claim in this critically important segment. For American's who don't know any better, Ford's small-car lineup in Europe includes such popular top-sellers as the Ford Focus, Fiesta, and Ka. The Verve was meant to be Ford's first "world car" entry, the first vehicle manufactured to meet universal safety, quality, efficiency, and design standards, regardless of where it would be sold around the world.
Discussions with fellow journalists made it clear that some changes would be required, most notably the replacement of its beautiful all-glass roof with a lighter, more conventional construction. Its pillarless side doors would probably also require a more traditional design. I could live with that. Some journalists were optimistically predicting that this car would replace the Focus line in the United States, finally answering the question that so many had asked: "When will Ford bring the European Focus to the U.S.?"
I was hoping it would be available with a powerful but efficient version of Ford's new EcoBoost engine technology, so I could have its sporty performance as well as an environmentally friendly powertrain.
I WANTED TO OWN THIS CAR.
Ford says momentum in small-car sales is outpacing overall industry growth worldwide. Globally, Ford predicts small car sales will grow from 23 million units in 2002 to an estimated 38 million in 2012. In the U.S., sales of small cars likely will grow by 800,000 -- or 25 percent - to a record 3.4 million units by 2012. With those cards in their deck, it was clear that Ford was hoping there would be a whooooooooole lot of people with the same sentiment.
Up to this point, I had nothing but good things to say. I was infatuated with this car.
Well, today, Ford made an important announcement about the future of the Verve, confirming that the production version of Ford's new-generation global small car will be shown at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show. Fiesta will be its name and it will go on sale in Europe by fall 2008 in three- and five-door hatchback body styles. By 2010, the new Fiesta will be on sale in markets across Europe, Asia, South Africa, Australia and North America in a variety of regionally tailored models derived from a common platform.
"Fiesta?" FIESTA? I don't know who decided this car should be a poignant return to Ford's 1980s Fiesta roots, but my first thought was that naming it FIESTA WILL BE SUICIDE FOR THIS VEHICLE.
I screamed at my computer: "It should be named FOCUS. It should BE THE FOCUS!
I drove a Festiva in the early 1990s. (Festiva was the American iteration of the Fiesta.) It was a cute little boxy thing that wasn't very powerful, but it did get great economy. It was small and fun and nimble and cheap and efficient. I paid $7000 for that car in 1989, put 117,000 miles on it in six years, and then gave it away just moments before it imploded. It was my own personal roller skate on 14-inch wheels. It was also built using parts shared with Mazda and assembled in Mexico--even back then it was a "world car."
My immediate thought was that this would be like Honda developing a stylish new Civic Si and calling it Fit. Or Toyota developing a new Celica Supra and calling it Tercel. Two different associations, you know? The Verve can be so much more than a Fiesta. It IS so much more than a Fiesta.
A quick email parry with Ford's director of social media revealed the following interesting factoids: Fiesta has a lot of cachet outside the United States. Of Ford's treo of European vehicles, Fiesta sold more than 12 million units since its debut in 1976. (Focus has sold more than five million vehicles in Europe since it debuted there in 1998, and the Ka has sold more than a million in its 11-year lifetime.)
Who am I to argue with the New York Times, who says "This time, Ford Motor Company is keeping it simple - one car with one name for every market in the world." They clearly don't have the same memory of the Festiva/Fiesta that I do. Ford obviously knows more about this than I do, but it seems a shame to try to convince the U.S. market that the Fiesta is more than they remember, just because the name/brand was successful in Europe.
I totally understand the conundrum. This is going to be a world car, so it should be globally named. But in my heart, I worry that Fiesta is going to be a hard sell to enthusiasts in the U.S. and I fear the name could handicap the car in this market. But when I learned the next factoid, I wondered if -- at 42-- am I just too old for this car?
Ford is aiming this vehicle towards a group of young people aged 13 to 28 years - dubbed "Millennials." Today, this group stands 1.7 billion strong worldwide and will represent 28 percent of the total U.S. population by 2010. None of them were alive when the American Festiva/Fiesta was my mode of economic transportation.
As a group, these Millennials embrace eco-friendliness, stay in constant touch using modern technology, and demand best-in-class products from around the world. This group will grow from representing 19 percent of the driving public in 2004 to amassing 28 percent in 2010.
Every day, 11,000 Millennials in the U.S. come of driving age. When it's time to buy their first car, nearly half of this group shops the small-car segment.
For those youngsters, I hope it won't matter whether it's named Focus, Fiesta, Festiva, or Verve. I simply hope that -- like me -- they will also fall in love with its a bold, modern, design; sophisticated electronics and premium materials; surprising functional space; and its fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine.
By Brandy Schaffels