LONDON - Ford Motor Co.'s dealers and European sales organizations are frustrated by the company's decision to abandon development of a compact minivan based on the Ford Focus.
But Ford officials say they believe they have the fast-growing small minivan segment covered until new products come along in the future.
The question will be whether those products will be new and different enough to make up for the time Ford has lost. Renault's Megane Scenic appeared in 1996 and General Motors' Zafira in 1998.
Ford now plans to base its multiactivity vehicle on the next-generation Focus. But that means it will not appear until at least 2003, half a decade or more behind the competition.
Supplier sources say the original five-seater was scheduled to go on sale at the end of 1999. Once redesigned as a seven-seater, the multiactivity was planned to debut around the third quarter of 2001.
Nigel Griffiths, analyst and researcher for Standard & Poor's DRI in London, said the compact minivan segment has been the most dynamic in the industry during the past 10 years. Spurred by the entry of the Zafira, the segment grew 54.1 percent in Europe in 1999, according to estimates by JATO Dynamics and .
'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. He estimated that Ford will lose about 150,000 units, or roughly 1 percent of European market share, in the immediate future by not building the model.
Dealers, who had been awaiting a competitor to the segment-leading Scenic and Zafira, were disappointed by the decision.
'We need such a model because we do not have a Scorpio either, so we have nothing to offer against an Opel Zafira or Omega,' said Britta Mohr of the Auto Rossler Ford dealership in Kassel, Germany.
But David Thursfield, president of Ford of Europe, said, 'We've looked at our lineup, and clearly we've got that covered with the cycle plan over the next two or three years.'
Part of the plan will be unveiled this week at the Geneva auto show, where Ford will show a redesigned Galaxy minivan and a concept car based on the Galaxy. Ford also may develop a people mover version of the new Fiesta platform. The company also is introducing a small sport-utility in Europe called the Escape.
Dave Reuter, spokesman for Ford of Europe, said Ford still plans to make a multiactivity vehicle based on the Focus. Just what shape that will take he and other Ford officials are not saying.
Wim Oude Weernik, Dorothee Ostle and Stephane Farhi contributed to this story