Ford’s New Focus Small Car Gets Bigger While Improving Mileage

Ford Motor Co. is packing 250 pounds onto its new Focus small car to add more features and create a quieter ride, while still managing to improve its highway fuel economy 14 percent.

The 2012 Focus, which Ford revealed today on the eve of the Paris Motor Show, is heavier because it is loaded with touch- screen technology and sound-deadening insulation, Ford said. The new version also is longer and wider than the current U.S. model because Ford is basing it on the Focus it sells in Europe.

Ford is bulking up the car to help set it apart from the smaller Fiesta subcompact it introduced in the U.S. this year. The two models are the foundation of Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s bet that U.S. buyers will pay more for small cars equipped with the amenities typically found in larger models. Ford now makes little or no money on the Focus, analysts say.

“Our objective with our new wave of small cars is to seriously strengthen our hand,” Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s product development chief, said at a Sept. 15 briefing in Dearborn, Michigan, where the company is based. “Especially here in the U.S., where we have been underperforming.”

The new Focus has a more efficient six-speed automatic transmission and direct-injection engine technology that minimizes gasoline consumption. The car’s shape was sculpted to improve aerodynamics by 7 percent and includes front grille shutters that close at high speeds to reduce resistance.

40 Miles Per Gallon

The improvements boosted highway fuel economy to 40 miles per gallon from 35 mpg on the current model equipped with a manual transmission. The new car is 18 percent better than the current Focus with an automatic transmission, Ford said. Ford declined to reveal the fuel economy for city driving.

“The question is, ‘What would the fuel-economy improvement of the new Focus have been without the weight gain?’” said Eric Fedewa, director of global powertrain and technology forecasts for researcher IHS Automotive in Northville, Michigan. “The answer: ‘A lot more and maybe significantly more.’”

The Focus, which will be 3 inches longer and 4 inches wider than the current U.S. version, is heavier because it has more features and will match the European version’s size, said Mark Schirmer, a spokesman. Rather than having different models for the U.S. and Europe, Ford developed one Focus to sell worldwide.

By 2012, Ford is targeting worldwide sales of 2 million for the Focus and its global variants, which will cut costs by having more than 80 percent of parts in common, Kuzak said.

Higher Prices

Ford also is trying to drive up the price consumers will pay for a Focus by offering technology such as an 8-inch touch- screen in the dashboard that controls the phone, stereo, climate and navigation systems. Ford also added padding in the wheel wells and an acoustic, laminated windshield to make the Focus ride quieter than a Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla.

The current Focus starts at $16,985 and tops out above $20,000. Ford hasn’t revealed pricing for the new model, which it said will include a “Titanium” trim-level “tailored to car buyers who want luxury levels of interior appointments.”

“The growth in small vehicles is coming from SUVs, F- Series trucks, premium-brand cars,” said Mark Kaufman, Ford’s car marketing manager. “These customers are used to a wide range of features and technologies.”

A heavier Focus is counter-intuitive to Kuzak’s goal of cutting 250 pounds to 750 pounds from each of Ford’s models between 2012 and 2020. The Explorer sport-utility vehicle debuting at year’s end is 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor, Ford has said.

“Fuel economy is the No. 1 reason to buy” in the compact car market, said Jim Hughes, chief engineer of the new Focus. “We were looking for every little thing on the vehicle to make gains.”

Federal pressure also is shaping Ford’s efforts to offer more fuel-efficient autos, with President Barack Obama’s 2009 announcement of rules for greenhouse-gas emissions and the first boost in fuel-economy standards in decades.

“The next generation Focus will be lighter,” said Michael Robinet, an IHS Automotive analyst. “It will have to be.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Keith Naughton in Paris at knaughton3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net.

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