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.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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  1. “It actually started when Ford began importing the Transit Connect”

    Actually it started when Ford stated importing the Mondeo and slapped Contour badges on it.
    (unless you want to go back to the Ford/Mercury Capri)

    And of course the Contour was an abject market falure, dispite being a rather fabulous car. I never really understood why it was derided as being “To European” when it was much better looking than the bestselling jellybean Taurus.

    Now if Ford would just extend the “One Ford” philosophy to include Austraila I’d be hapy.

    A 2012 Ford Falcon would be just the ticket, along with a Falcon based Ranchero.

  2. @Mark in AZ

    Ford has actually been ‘experimenting’ with importing quite a lot of its European lineup over the decades.
    –I remember two of my uncles owning the European Capri back in the mid-70s.
    –The first-gen Fiesta came over in 1976, iirc, but instead of continuing with it Ford NA looked to Asia for its (inferior) replacements.
    –The Escort was supposed to be a world car, only Ford NA re-engineered virtually the whole car, leaving next to no commonality. (The first-gen Focus until now was the closest Ford came to a world car.)
    –Then there was the Merkur disaster –great car, but Lincoln-Mercury dealers didn’t know what to do with it, and the name was stupid.
    –There is the Contour you mentioned; I almost bought the Mercury version, the Mystique.

    I don’t think it will happen, but I would like to see a scalable, modular, “lightweight” rear-drive platform that can support the Aussie Ford Falcon, the next Mustang, a Lincoln Mark X, and perhaps a reborn European Ford Scorpio. (They need something above the Mondeo.)

  3. Okay, just to clarify here: The Transit Connect was the first Euro-type product brought over here as part of Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” program.

  4. But I do appreciate the comments!

  5. @James2, if they couldn’t bring a new Scorpio, how about a new Sierra (although GM own the rights in North America, Ford could revive the old Taunus or Cortina monikers) or a new Capri?

    Then in Brazil, Ford had a “local oddity”, the Corcel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Corcel who was a Renault 12 revamped. Willys-Overland do Brasil planned to built a car based on the Renault 12 and Ford inherited of the Corcel when they acquired Willys Brazilian operations.

  6. What about the new global Ranger? Too small? Too close in price to an F-150?

  7. It might be worthing pointing out that one of the factors that has contributed to Ford domination of WRC in recent times is that fact that it is a two horse race these days- only Ford and Citroen remain as factory players.

    Still, the Euro Fords are very good products.

    The fly in the ointment with respect to a One Ford taking in the Oz Falcon…..sorry…that one has already had its coffin made. The next Falcon will almost certainly be a derivative of the next gen Taurus….and therefore front wheel drive/all wheel drive. And probably no V8. And that decision also kills the Falcon ute.

    In the Ford stable, RWD will be a domain of the Mustang only in the near future.

  8. Seano, thus the reason I drive a Mustang. I refuse to drive FWD cars any more.

  9. Ford tried the Taurus idea on the Aus/NZ market once before it was a dismal failure nobody wanted them too ugly gutless gas hungry and front drive. For some reason the Falcon hasnt been exported much while Fords big rival in Aussie Holden has been sending its V8/V6 rwd car to England US South Africa Middle east etc with huge success and its the basis for all GM rwd cars hence the great handling of Cts Camaro etc , Ford has dropped the ball here big time

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