For the past seven years, engineers at Ford Motor Co.'s Special Vehicle Engineering group have followed a similar game plan.
They have beefed up engines and suspensions of production vehicles, such as the Mustang and F-150, and watched enthusiasts line up to pay $30,000 or more for a factory-built hot rod.
But to bring the latest SVT to market - an upgrade of the Ford Focus - SVT chief engineer John Coletti had to devise a new plan. He had to add high-performance SVT hardware but keep the sticker price within reach of younger buyers.
The solution: Go global. Coletti will bring the SVT Focus to market for $18,000 in part because he will sell the cars on two continents, Europe and North America. He plans a run of 20,000 high-performance Focus cars per year on both continents. Current SVT models typically have annual production runs of 7,500.
'The Focus is the perfect car to make into an SVT product because there's a lot of growth potential and helps build the image with younger buyers,' Coletti says.
For contrast, the price of a 2001 Ford Focus ZX3 coupe, on which the SVT Focus is based, starts at $12,700 including destination charges.
Ford plans 7,500
Ford plans to build for North America only 7,500 copies of the 2002 SVT Focus, which goes on sale early next year. That's a mere 2.5 percent of total Focus sales in 2000 and hardly the type of volume that justifies making the investment in a low-priced performance car.
The key, Coletti says, is that the SVT Focus was conceived as a global hot rod. Coletti, 51, built his business case on annual production of 20,000 units. That volume enables the addition of the expensive powertrain hardware and, along with dipping into the Ford of Europe parts bin for brakes, wheels and seats, allows the vehicle to be profitable. The other 12,500 units will be sold in Europe as the Focus ST. Ford has not announced the timing of the Focus ST's arrival.
'There's not much difference between enthusiasts in the United States and in Europe,' Coletti says. 'And if it works for North America and Europe, it will also work for South America and Asia.
'We engineered to the toughest standard around the world. That way, the car meets the regulations in all markets. We will have to do some software calibration changes for individual markets, but the hardware stays the same.'
But while the SVT Focus was developed in less than 24 months, creating a global group of hot rodders has been a five-year project for Coletti.
Getting a group of passionate engineers - some raised on the Friday night street drags of Woodward Avenue in Detroit, others on the unlimited speeds of the German autobahn - to work together and trust each other was a huge challenge.
Special Vehicle Engineering, which creates prototypes and concepts for other Ford divisions as well as the vehicles sold by the automaker's Special Vehicle Team marketing unit, is housed in a nondescript, warehouse-style building in suburban Detroit about five miles from Ford's main campus in Dearborn, Mich.
Coletti also manages a similar group of Ford engineers in Europe. Special Vehicle Engineering has about 65 engineers - 36 in North America, 21 in Dunton, England, and eight in Cologne, Germany.
'For two years, the engineers in Germany treated me nicely, but they were formal,' Coletti says. 'Then one day, a group of three engineers said, `We have something in the basement we want to show you.' Down there were cars they had been working on for two years but hadn't told me out of fear I wouldn't like them. That proved to me that I had won their trust.'
Road to consensus
For the SVT Focus and its European siblings, Coletti says he didn't want to dictate terms to either group. He divided responsibility for different areas of the vehicle among the U.S. and European groups and waited for them to reach a decision.
Coletti expected some disagreements over styling, performance and handling. But he viewed his role as mentor, not master.
'There's only two ways to get someone to do something they don't want to - offer them an alternative that's more attractive or make it uncomfortable where their current position is,' Coletti says of how he handled the disagreements.
At one point, the engineering teams disagreed on where to build the car's engine.
The U.S. engineers leaned toward a North American plant, but the European engineers were adamant about using a Ford plant in Bridgend, England. 'I didn't make the decision for them; I just told them I would only tool up one plant,' Coletti says.
After the combined group inspected both sites, the European engineers changed their position and agreed that the Hermosillo, Mexico, plant was the best site to build the modified 2.0-liter engine.
The global hot rod concept can work on other vehicles, Coletti says, even though European and Asian markets aren't suited for large vehicles.
Special Vehicle Engineering was lauded for its work creating the Ford SVT Contour. But Americans didn't like the regular Contour, which was dropped from the Ford lineup after the 2000 model year, taking the SVT Contour with it.
'I think it could work and should work,' Coletti says of global hot rods. 'He who skins that cat will end up with a monster opportunity.'
In our case, this is all about competitive advantage: You end up with more product for less money.'