A landmark car: 2012 Ford Focus
Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Auto makers must constantly play a high-risk guessing game. Car buyers’ priorities vary, and change over time. It takes a few years to develop a new car, so auto makers must try to figure out what people will want in the future. A few years ago different companies placed very different bets.
Chevrolet and Ford kept hearing that their cars didn’t look or feel as nice as those from competitors, with Volkswagens often touted by professional reviewers as the benchmark. So with their new small cars, the Cruze and the Focus, they vastly upgraded the body structure, chassis, and interior materials. As a result, the new cars feel far more expensive than they actually are, with the Focus having the feel of a premium European offering. Which is a good thing, as they are far more expensive than the cars they replaced. The average transaction price on a Ford Focus has gone up about $5,000 from last year to this year, a huge jump.
At the same time, Honda and Volkswagen felt that Americans wanted cheaper cars, so they removed expensive materials from the chassis and interiors of the new Civic and Jetta. The latter, until recently considered the most premium offering among compact sedans, now looks and feels among the cheapest. The new Civic is no better.
So, who’s right? Possibly everyone: all four models are selling strongly. But it’s much easier to go downmarket than upmarket. And very few people, including me, thought an American car company could sell a small car in the United States at European prices. But they’ve pulled it off. By proving that Americans will pay top-dollar for a small American car if it’s good enough, the Ford Focus deserves to be recognized as a landmark car.