For now, it's just a "concept car," an idea rendered in metal and glass and plastic.
But the car called "Escort" that Ford (NYSE: F ) revealed at the auto show in Shanghai on Saturday isn't some sexy high-tech dream car made for the show circuit. Instead, as you can see, it's a very simple-looking sedan.
It has the hexagonal grille that's becoming a global Ford trademark, and the lines are clean and pleasant, but it's a plain-looking car. It looks a little like a Focus -- but one that has been toned way, way down.
So what is this thing? Is Ford really going to build it? And why did Ford call it "Escort"?
Why Ford might want an Escort alongside its Focus
As with many things in the auto business nowadays, the answer has a lot to do with China. Ford's Focus has been a best-seller in China since the latest version was rolled out there last spring -- but despite that car's sales success, Ford thinks that there are some buyers it might be missing.
Not all Chinese car buyers want the same things that American or European consumers want. Some have very conservative tastes, Ford has discovered. They want something good, but they don't want it to be too stylish.
They want a good car that is built well, finished well, and drives well, but they don't want to stand out. Something that's relatively plain-looking -- but still attractive and well-made -- is more likely to draw their interest.
Meanwhile, if you've spent any time in the latest Ford Focus, you know it's a car with many virtues -- but back-seat room isn't really one of them. That's not a big deal here in the U.S. or in Europe. But it matters more in China, where adults often ride in the back.
So what is the Ford Escort? Long story short, it's a toned-down Focus with more room in the back seat -- with an old Ford name that suggests sturdy-but-unexciting transportation.
Is this starting to make sense now?
So will they build it?
For now, the Escort is just a concept. Ford hasn't confirmed plans to build it. But it has the look of something that Ford could put into production relatively quickly.
It's a safe bet that, under that toned-down skin, the Escort shares most of its parts with the Focus. It's also a safe bet that the Escort could be built on the same assembly lines as the Focus.
That makes the Escort a car that Ford could start building without a huge upfront investment. It also makes it a car that Ford could profitably build just for China -- because it still benefits from the economies of scale that come from the Focus, which is built and sold all over the world.
Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY ) does that sort of thing regularly -- using the "bones" of an existing model to build a new car that looks different but is really just a subtle variation for a regional market. It's a low-cost way to create a model to cater to a local market's tastes, while ensuring high quality.
It's not hard to see where this is all going. It seems like a good bet that Ford will roll out the Escort in hopes of attracting those Chinese car-buyers who find the Focus just a bit too snazzy for their tastes.
The Escort will probably never be sold here, or in Europe. It probably won't set the sales charts on fire. But it could make some new customers happy while adding a nice profit to Ford's bottom line in Asia.
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