LONDON - Ford Motor Co. has pulled the plug on its much-delayed Focus-based multiactivity vehicle, depriving the company of a vehicle for up to four more years in Europe's fastest-growing segment.
David Thursfield, president of Ford of Europe Inc. in Cologne, Germany, said Ford believes it can cover the compact minivan segment in other ways. He declined to elaborate.
Ford will introduce a heavily revamped version of its Galaxy minivan later this year. It also is planning a multiactivity vehicle version on the next-generation Fiesta, due within three years.
Sources say Ford has also killed the cabriolet version of the Focus, which would have entered the market in about two years.
Thursfield said Ford has two new products due out in 2003, one a coupe and the other a convertible, that will be 'breathtaking.' He said Ford did not simply wish to 'stick a ragtop on top of the Focus.' The new products will not necessarily be badged Focus, he said.
Ford had earlier delayed the Focus compact minivan several times in reaction to market pressures. The Focus multiactivity vehicle originally was planned with five seats, but when the seven-seat Opel/Vauxhall Zafira appeared at the Geneva auto show in 1998, Ford decided to rethink the seating configuration and give the vehicle seven seats.
Company executives were not happy with its design, however. So Ford cancelled the project and decided to build a multiactivity vehicle on the next-generation Focus, due in 2003 or 2004.
Thursfield declined to comment on the Focus multiactivity vehicle. However, in general terms, he said Ford no longer wants to allow others to define segments.
'We will dance to our own drum,' he said.
The decision to kill the multiactivity vehicle based on the current Focus stunned suppliers and analysts, and came as Ford is trying to halt sliding market share in Europe.
The impact of the decision could be felt beyond Europe. Ford reportedly had planned to sell the vehicle in Latin America and had been considering a North American introduction. Sources say a Volvo version also was under consideration.
The Zafira has been a smash success, already second to the segment-defining Renault Megane Scenic, which arrived in 1998. The compact minivan segment grew 54.1 percent between 1998 and 1999, according to estimates of JATO Dynamics and .
Nigel Griffiths, analyst and researcher for Standard & Poor's DRI in London, said the compact minivan segment has been the most dynamic industry segment of the last 10 years.
'From a strategic product market perspective, it (the lack of a compact minivan) is going to be a significant problem for them over the next few years,' Griffiths said. Ford now faces the challenge of filling a 'yawning gap in its future model strategy,' he said.
Griffiths expressed surprise Ford had not simply gone ahead and built a five-seat multiactivity vehicle in order to establish a presence in the segment.
PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA recently launched the Picasso with five seats, and Renault SA Chief Executive Louis Schweitzer told he believed seven-seat models would account for only 10 to 15 percent of future compact minivan sales.