DETROIT (Reuters) -- Ford Motor Co.'s planned North American launch of its Fiesta small car and redesigned Focus compact are on track for next year, the automaker's product development chief said.
Ford, the only U.S. automaker not to pass through bankruptcy in 2009, is restructuring its operations and product lineup to meet anticipated demand for smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles in North America.
Production of the Fiesta in Mexico, expected in the first half of 2010, and the Focus, in the second half of the year, would put Ford ahead of U.S. rivals General Motors and Chrysler Group in adding and improving their small-vehicle lineups.
"Right now, both of those programs remain on target," Derrick Kuzak, said in an interview. "And on the Fiesta side, launching in the U.S., we will be building on some very good momentum because the vehicle has already launched in other regions of the world."
The Fiesta is selling at production capacity in Europe and China, he said.
The Fiesta and Focus are part of Ford's strategy to build vehicles globally with as many parts in common as possible to reduce costs through economies of scale and make cars that are attractive for each market.
"We are convinced, based on the China experience and based on the Fiesta experience, the commonality levels are very very high, but yet it seems clear that we are able to satisfy individual market needs," Kuzak said.
Ford brand overhaul
The Fiesta and Focus vehicle launches continue the reworking of the Ford brand car lineup. Ford is releasing a fully redesigned Taurus sedan and refreshed versions of its Fusion mid-sized sedan and Mustang sports car this year.
Still, Ford's additions to the 2010 model-year Fusion this year have been more extensive than might normally be found on what could be considered a mid-cycle refreshing, coming 3-1/2 years after the initial launch, he said.
The Fusion has a new front end, instrument panel, set of powertrain options and technology, and a hybrid version -- all of which has led to stronger relative sales of the car.
"It's that kind of freshening cadence and that level of change that is so dramatic for our customers -- it is also quieter and also handles better -- that is helping to drive the improved (market) share performance," Kuzak said of the sedan.
A faster turnaround cycle for Ford than U.S. rivals is one element Merrill Lynch cited Wednesday in its "Car Wars" study as likely to help the automaker increase its share of the U.S. market over the next four years to about 18 percent.
The companys share through June of this year is 16.1 percent, putting it on track for an annual advance in its home market for the first time since 1995.
The average age of the portfolio and the freshening rate is a fundamental measure Ford uses for its product plan, and the strength Merrill Lynch cited came as no surprise, Kuzak said.
"Clearly that correlates to (market) share performance," Kuzak said.
Ford's most critical vehicle launch of the year has been the redesigned Taurus sedan. CEO Alan Mulally has ordered the company to aim to revitalize the former top seller among American-made cars.
"The Taurus is the flagship sedan for the Ford brand and it is the reinvention of an iconic nameplate for us," Kuzak said, adding that it also has been meant to be "the ultimate execution" of Ford's product strategy.