GENEVA - The next Ford world car, the successor to the Escort, is on time for a planned introduction toward the end of the decade, according to Richard Parry-Jones, the company's top product development executive in Europe.
Codenamed CW170, the car will replace both European and American Escorts and is expected in 1999.
The program was approved by the Ford Motor Co. board in January, said Parry-Jones, vice president of Ford's Vehicle Center I in Europe.
He declined to give the specific launch date. But in the past, Parry-Jones has appeared to confirm reports from suppliers that Ford has retimed the launch of CW170.
Ford planned to launch the unit in the 1998 model year in Europe and the 1999 model year in North America. Ford now plans to introduce the model in the 1999 model year in Europe and in the 2000 model year in North America, suppliers say.
But Parry-Jones said the schedule has not varied.
'We have set our timing objectives and we are on schedule,' he said in Geneva.
Parry-Jones said the new Escort will demonstrate that Ford 2000 is paring development times and saving on costs.
With the new Escort, the small and medium-sized car vehicle center is making 'a considerable improvement in lead-time.' He said program time is down 30 percent compared to past all-new vehicle programs.
Working under the company's new platform program, the Escort could have six different body styles at introduction.
'We could probably go further,' Parry-Jones said, 'but the additional derivatives would be spread out over the life of the vehicle.
'Six is all we could contain at Job One. I have no doubt we could find nine derivatives of the Escort, maybe more.'
Each market could get up to five variants. North America would probably have one fewer than Europe because there is little demand for the hatchback there.
He said an Escort hatchback could be sourced from Mexico for South America. Brazil could also build a derivative only for the local market, he said.
'What the platforms provide is versatility,' he said. 'It is not just high and dry theory, it is plausible, we are doing it.'
There has also been talk of a small minivan like the Renault Megane Scenic coming off the new Escort platform.
Unlike Mondeo and its US counterpart, the Contour/Mystique, the next Escort will not be positioned in a higher price bracket in the US and European markets, Parry-Jones said.
Contour/Mystique were, from the start, aimed at a higher level than their predecessors in the US market, he said.
The problem this time is creating a car that Parry-Jones says is 'aimed at the same size segment not the same pricing' in Europe and the US.
In Europe, the Escort is one segment above entry-level and is a family car. In North America, while not an entry-level model, it is close to the bottom where pricing is extremely sensitive.
In North America, the new Escort will be offered 'in a variety of options,' said Parry-Jones. He would not give details, but said 'we are not about to abandon our heartland of Escort buyers. Our solution to this isn't to substantially inflate the price in North America.
Niche =50,000 units
Parry-Jones said the vehicle center hopes to develop more niche vehicles. To build one the smallest worldwide demand would have to be 50,000 units a year or larger, he said.
But spawning many niche cars off its new platform isn't a cornerstone of the center's philosophy.
'We are developing a product structure that will enable us to more often participate profitably in niche areas of the market. We see the market continuing to fragment,' said Parry-Jones.
The Fiesta-based four-seat Lynx 'roadster' concept car shown at Geneva is a possible niche derivative. Consumer comments were collected at the show.
'We are very interested in reaction - it may spawn some ideas that may make it into production,' Parry-Jones said.
He said the Lynx could have market potential because there are no four-seat roadsters on the market.
'A four-seat roadster may be genuinely innovative and image enhancement would be greater,' he said.
Meanwhile, the vehicle center has added another platform director. The company said that worldwide demand through 1997 for the European Fiesta has ballooned to 730,000 units annually, nearly double the 400,000 units originally planned when the car was launched last year. Malcolm Thomas was appointed this year to join John Risk as a B-segment platform director.
'It is a major challenge that we never anticipated,' said Parry-Jones. 'Strategically, we intended it to happen but the time scale is faster than what we anticipated.'