Has Ford lost its focus in Europe as sales of its heavy hitters fall?

The Focus and Fiesta could be chopped as they suffer an identity crisis in electric era

The Ford logo. Photograph: Al Drago/Bloomberg

The future of key Ford models, including the Fiesta and Focus, could be in doubt, given Ford’s plans to transform itself into a maker of exclusively electric cars, as well as its move towards SUVs.

In the US market, Ford has found significant success in shifting away from what one might call “conventional” cars – hatchbacks, saloons and MPVs – and going to market with a line-up that’s almost entirely made up of SUVs. Indeed, the only non-SUV in Ford’s American line-up right now is the Mustang coupe.

The future of the Mustang is assured – a new two-door Mustang coupe is already at the prototype stage – but looking on rather shakier ground are the Focus and Fiesta in Europe.

Both cars have been recently updated, coming with new infotainment systems for the 2022 model year, as well as upgraded “mild-hybrid” engines that feature a minimum of electrical assistance to help cut down on fuel consumption and emissions around town.


However, neither car has a fully electric version nor a plug-in hybrid, and that is increasingly making both look like pariahs within the Ford family. The company has pledged that it will make only models that are fully electric capable (either being powered entirely by battery or plug-in hybrid power) from 2026 onwards.

Line workers assemble a 2021 Ford Bronco at their Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

That can be fixed, of course – both models will be due for replacement well ahead of the 2026 cut-off, but there are indications that it might not happen, and that both could go the way of the Mondeo in the next few years as Ford of Europe attempts to copy the American SUV-only model. Worse still, some Ford insiders have seemingly begun to lay the foundation of such a move, referring to the Fiesta in particular as a "car of the past" and ruing that Ford missed the opportunities that rivals such as Opel, Peugeot and Renault all nabbed with electric versions of their small hatchbacks.

Not the end?

Jay Ward, Ford of Europe's director of product communications, is adamant that there's life in both Fiesta and Focus yet. "We've got a month's worth of back orders that we need to work through. So it kind of tells you that there's still a very significant demand for those products out there," he says.

Ward also brushed off concerns that a lack of electric models could be spelling doom for both Fiesta and Focus. “Whilst electrification clearly is critical to all of us – you already know Ford’s commitment to electrification long term – we also think we have we had a sort of a duty to our customers to try and keep electrification as affordable as possible, and those kinds of segments so mild hybrid offers anything between the 5 and 10 per cent improvement in fuel economy and CO2, which is very significant. And in particular, it’s very useful around towns, which is of course where those cars tend to be used more.”

Both the Fiesta and the Focus had torrid sales last year in the UK and Irish markets. Traditionally, both would have been at the sharp end of the top 10 in both markets, but in Ireland, the Focus slumped to ninth place in the best-seller list, while the Fiesta languished in 31st position.

A 2021 Ford Focus

The news in the UK was, if anything, even worse. Not only was Ford not the best-selling brand – a position on which it has had a virtual stranglehold since the 1970s – it also lost the best-selling model status, to arch-rival Vauxhall’s Corsa, a car that notably has an electric version to act as a “halo” model.

According to Ward, though, we’re not seeing the full picture. “Obviously, they both had a tougher year in 2021 because of the semiconductor issue, and that that did affect Focus and Fiesta disproportionately. And part of that is we took a conscious decision to look at our semiconductor availability and marry that up to the vehicles that we knew were in high demand – in particular vehicles such as Transit, which was so critical to businesses in fleets last year, and certainly vehicles like Kuga plug-in hybrid, and the like.

“So that’s really the reason why Fiesta and Focus had a poor a poor sales year by comparison to normal. That being said, there is still a huge demand for the vehicles out there, and as the semiconductor shortages hopefully start to ease off, our plans are to very much ramp up production on Fiesta and Focus as and when we can.”

All-electric crossover

That’s fine for the moment, but what of the future? Next year we will see the first fruits of Ford’s collaboration with Volkswagen in passenger car terms. The two companies have tied up to make commercial vehicles together, and the next Transit and Transporter, as well as the Ranger and Amarok pick-ups, will be co-produced. Ford has also signed up to use Volkswagen’s MEB electric car platform – which underpins the ID.3 and ID.4, as well as the Skoda Enyaq and Audi Q4 – and will start producing an all-electric crossover based on that package.

So far details are light on this new all-electric model, but it’s expected that Ford will make a major announcement on it in the next few weeks. Some indication of the longer-term future for Focus and Fiesta might also be forthcoming at that time.

What happens next is open to interpretation. Ford has developed its own unique electric platforms for the US market, for the Mustang Mach-E SUV and the F-150 Lightning pick-up truck. So in theory, it doesn't need to use VW's tech in Europe. Unless, that is, Ford is planning to follow the lead of its great rival Chevrolet and abandon Europe altogether? There is the possibility, even if it's an outside one, that Ford may seek to cut loose its European operations and turn it over to VW to create badge-engineered Fords.

A 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck at the Washington Auto Show. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

If that's something of a far-fetched theory, then there is arguably more likelihood of a change in Ford's Irish set-up. Henry Ford & Sons Limited, Ford's Irish operation, was established in Cork in 1917, and is still the only Ford importer or country operator to contain the full name of the founder in its title. In recent years, Ford Ireland (as it is colloquially known) has been trimmed back to a shell of its former self, and is really now more of an offshoot of Ford of Britain, with a skeleton local management team.

Given Ford's fall in sales in Ireland – its sales were down 22 per cent last year compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019 – it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Ford may seek to cut its Irish operations loose, and turn them over to a lower-cost local importer. Given that Opel has found such success by doing exactly that, and given that the Irish market is now dominated by Toyota and Hyundai – both managed in Ireland by independent importers – surely it's little more than pride in the name over the door that keeps Ford's Irish operations in-house these days?