SHANGHAI — At November's Guangzhou auto show, one of the most important shows in China, Ford Motor Co. put its freshened Focus sedan and hatchback at the center of its stage.
Chen Xiaobo, executive vice president of Ford China's National Sales and Service Division, told the media at the show that, with its newly restyled interior and the addition of a wagon version, the Focus would "greatly satisfy" the needs of young Chinese consumers.
But China's dealers and analysts aren't so sure about that.
"Time has changed," said an executive at a Shanghai-based dealer group who asked not to be identified because of his group's close ties with Ford's China unit. "For all these efforts, it would be hard for Ford to restore the past glory for the Focus."
In reality, the Ford Focus has been encountering the same consumer headwinds in China that it did in the U.S. market. In the U.S., Ford has largely abandoned sedans for it product portfolio. It shifted Focus production to China in 2018 because it was proving refreshingly popular among Chinese consumers. But even there, attitudes are changing.
Ford launched the compact sedan in China in 2005, followed by a hatchback variation the next year — the first global brand to offer a hatchback there.
With the car's design and Ford's prestige as an international brand, Focus sales rose steadily in China. From 2012 to 2014, it became the market's top-selling sedan. That enthusiasm helped move Ford to decide that China, not North America, was the sweet spot for the Focus.
But after its high of 392,000 sales in 2014, Focus sales went into decline. Last year, as China's automakers worked through the pandemic, the Focus mustered only 35,000 sales, according to China Passenger Car Alliance, the data unit of the China Automobile Dealers Association.
According to the dealer group executive who runs Ford stores in the Shanghai area, the model is falling victim to fast-rising competition.
"Unlike 10 years ago, the Focus now has too many competitors in the market," he said.