Ford has confirmed what had been rumoured for some time. The Fiesta is going to be given the chop, some 47 years after the original was introduced. By June 2023, production of the Fiesta will end at Ford’s factory in Cologne (along with production of the S-Max and Galaxy MPVs in Spain). With the Focus already scheduled for the chop in 2025, it’s clear that Ford is planning major changes in how and to whom it sells cars.
In a statement, Ford said: “At Ford in Europe, we are accelerating our efforts to go all-in on electrification with our passenger vehicles being fully electric by 2030 — and all vehicles across our Ford portfolio by 2035. As we get ready to transition to an electric future, we will discontinue production of S-Max and Galaxy in Valencia, Spain, in April 2023 and discontinue Fiesta production in Cologne, Germany by end of June 2023. We will introduce three new exciting electric passenger vehicles and four new electric commercial vehicles in Europe by 2024. We plan to sell more than 600,000 electric vehicles in the region by 2026, and the electric passenger vehicle production at the Cologne Electrification Centre will reach 1.2 million vehicles over a six-year time frame.”
The original Fiesta, dubbed Project Bobcat in development, was introduced in 1977 to take on the likes of the Fiat 128 and 127, the Renault 5, and the Volkswagen Polo. Small, affordable, and just about sparky enough to drive, it was a classic Ford mix of sharp styling mixed with slightly old-fashioned mechanical bits and pieces to make it more affordable to build. It was, significantly, Ford’s first front-wheel drive car (well, other than the 1963 Ford Taunus, which was little-seen outside of Germany).
The Fiesta was an instant success, and by the time the more curved second-generation model came along it was a regular botherer of the best-sellers list. That was in spite of the second-gen model being merely a re-skin of the original. Five doors came along in the late 1980s, and by then there were plenty of sporty Fiestas around, starting with the original XR2 and XR2i, passing through the likes of the mildly insane RS Turbo of the early 1990s, and on to the wonderful ST model of today.
By the time the RS Turbo model ended production, the Fiesta was getting a bit old in its mechanical make-up, but Ford — in the midst of its regeneration led by the late, great Richard Parry-Jones — gussied up what it had, slotted in a free-revving new Yamaha-designed 1.25 petrol engine and created one of the best-driving superminis of all time.
The thing is, though, that the Fiesta wasn’t about being brilliant to drive, nor quick even though it could be. It was about being affordable (cheap, at times) motoring. Younger drivers could afford one, and could afford to get insured on the smaller engine versions. No Fiesta was ever especially thirsty or expensive to run (RS Turbo excepted, of course ...) and parts were cheap if you wanted to do some home maintenance.
All of that is now gone. Oh it’s true, the Fiesta had become pricier and more technologically sophisticated, just as its rivals have done. But it still seemed like something attainable even if you’re not well-heeled, and something that wouldn’t feel like a hair shirt if you stretched your budget to get one.
Ford even alludes to this in a video released to accompany the end of the Fiesta’s line. In it, a nostalgic grandad reads to his grandson a book all about the Fiesta. You could accuse it of being mawkish, but the video kind of accidentally makes a point that we’re not sure Ford wants it to. “It wasn’t a big car, not a fancy car” says the narration. “But a car for the people. It became part of the family.”
Ford, though, is moving away from that market, as evinced by the Focus getting the bullet in two years’ time as well. Family cars, certainly affordable family cars, just don’t make enough money any more, and so Ford — on its way to becoming an all-electric manufacturer by 2030 — is joining other carmakers in abandoning the affordable family car market, and trying to sell as many high-end, high-profit models as it can.
As the video alludes to, the Fiesta’s replacement is essentially the Puma crossover — a car that’s fun to drive and practical, but notably more costly to buy than a Fiesta. The Puma will come in all-electric form by 2024, and that will presumably be more expensive again, potentially a €35,000-plus car. The Focus’s replacement will also be all-electric and a crossover, and will use VW’s MEB electric car architecture, which Ford is using under licence.
But, if Ford doesn’t make affordable family cars any more, is it still Ford at all? That’s the question I put to Steve Saxty, motoring historian and author of the brilliant Secret Fords series of books. “Ford has no choice but to reconfigure itself — even companies like Seat that were at lower price points have all had to move up a price point. Legislation has driven the cheap small car off the road due to emissions and safety requirements. In an electrified future, all cars will be zero emissions and larger both to accommodate batteries and appeal to buyers that see more appeal in a compact SUV than a small car like the Fiesta,” Saxty said.
“Ford had already shifted from a car-based range to one with a heavy mix of people carriers in the 2000s. That meant it was late into SUVs and now it has Puma it outsells the Fiesta roughly four to one.The reality is that Ford has always had to market shifts — it came late to the hatchback market in the ‘70s but it has to be given credit for sticking with it until now. But the world has moved on and we won’t see the likes of cars like this in future.”
More’s the pity. There’s a nobility in the Fiesta’s combination of affordability and driving fun, in its very mass-market everydayness. The future is focused on premium, not on mass and with it ends the day of the car we all could call ours.