Rally on Sunday, Sell on Monday
By Charles Krome
There are plenty of good reasons why Ford has reclaimed its place as one of the top automakers in the U.S., but one that sometimes gets short shrift is the company’s efforts to unify its global product offerings. So going forward, instead of having to spend the resources needed to support two entirely separate Focus lines, one in the U.S. and one in Europe, the company is going to take advantage of the economies of scale that come with building just one.
Unsurprisingly, the practical effect of this will be that many of the U.S. Fords will be replaced with their European counterparts—not the other way around. It actually started when Ford began importing the Transit Connect, and we’ll soon see the European Fiesta introduced on our shores, followed by the European Focus.
What’s especially interesting is that not only will the Blue Oval be assembling and selling these Euro-style products here, but it will also start throwing its weight behind the Euro-style motorsport in which these vehicles are famous for competing: Rallying.
It’s a very big deal overseas, where winning the World Rally Championship is about on par with winning the Formula 1 Championship. (That’s not much of a coincidence, of course, when you realize they’re both run by the same governing body, the FIA.) And it just so happens that Ford has been a very big deal in the WRC, winning the manufacturer’s title in 2006 and 2007 with the Focus.
The Fiesta is the Ford of choice in the WRC today, and through seven rallies, Fiesta drivers sit 3 and 4 in the standings, with three Fiesta-based teams in the top five of the manufacturer’s rankings.
More importantly for Ford’s success in America, Ken Block, one of the country’s best and best-known rally drivers, switched from Subaru to the Fiesta for this year. Now, unless you’re already a member of U.S. rallying intelligentsia or a big-time skateboarding fan—Block also cofounded DC Shoes, a company that makes high-end gear for elite skaters and other extreme athletes—he may not be on your radar screen. But as a quick visit to Google will show you, he’s a major force in the extreme sports world and his endorsement of the Fiesta could go a long way to polishing its reputation among young U.S. buyers, especially guys.
That’s where Ford’s bid to increase exposure for its rallying efforts in the U.S. comes in. The old “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” business, the usual explanation for automakers’ involvement in NASCAR, was originally based on the fact that the NASCAR race cars used to be so similar to what people could find on dealership lots—that’s why they were called “stock” cars. Today, that relationship has gotten a bit on the tenuous side.
Rally cars, on the other hand, at least share the same basic body shell as their production counterparts, and sometimes much more. Plus there’s no good way to “play” NASCAR out in the real world, while anyone can imagine being Ken Block just by tearing down a gravel road. Kind of like this one, which almost makes one giggle while watching Mr. Block on a shakedown run over dirt roads in his WRC Fiesta.
True, U.S. sports fans haven’t exactly embraced other popular international sports—quickly now, who played in this year’s World Cup final?—but I’m hoping Ford follows in the footsteps of one of Michigan’s most famed old-school rallies and decides to Press on Regardless.