|Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent for Automotive News Europe.|
Ford is downplaying sales expectations of the EcoSport subcompact SUV in Europe because the vehicle was designed with emerging markets in mind.
The European EcoSport unveiled at the Geneva auto show keeps the same robust format as the original car designed by Ford's design team in South America, complete with a rear-mounted spare wheel.
"It was meant to project a rugged character because the vast majority of places they will be sold will require tough vehicle, like South America and India," Martin Smith, executive design director for Ford of Europe, told me.
Under Ford's global design philosophy, Smith and the other design directors provided input into the car, but the demands of buyers in emerging markets won out.
In countries where bad roads are usual, those demands include a spare wheel. Because it was impossible to package it inside the car, Ford chose mount it on the rear in the manner of traditional off-roaders. Buyers in Europe can remove it, but the fastenings will remain visible. There's no option to cancel it.
"We realize for some people [the spare] may look too rugged and too added-on but the consensus is that we will sell the car in the same configuration for all the markets," Smith said.
In its ruggedness, EcoSport stands alone in a category where its European rivals are either designed to look sporty and playful like the Nissan Juke, or styled more like tall subcompacts, such as the newly revealed Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008.
Ford had little choice but to sell the EcoSport or miss out on a gold rush in a sector that analysts IHS Automotive predict will reach 500,000 in Europe by 2015, up from 154,461 last year.
However IHS reckons Ford won't be a huge player, predicting the EcoSport will sell just 36,000 in 2015, the year after its launch. By contrast IHS believes the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur will sell 100,000 and 93,000 respectively in their first year.
Ford is downplaying sales for its Indian-built car, but said this was due to capacity issues. "Volumes will be limited because of production, not demand," a spokesman said.
Smith predicted the car will sell well in eastern Europe. "The old Ford Fusion continued on as a heritage type of vehicle in Europe because of the eastern European market," he said. "The feedback we got is that they wanted a vehicle that was even more rugged." A four-wheel-drive version will be available in the future, according to Ford.
The company has got the right engines for the EcoSport in the 1-0 liter three-cylinder Ecoboot gasoline and 1.5-liter diesel, predicting the latter would give best-in-class emissions.
Smith said: "It may not sell in the volumes that it will in India and South America, but for someone who wants a cute, tough little urban vehicle I think it's the answer."