Why Ford Focus Sales Are Falling

Is Ford's Focus falling behind newer rivals? Or is just due for a refresh? Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

Ford's  (NYSE: F  ) Focus has been one of the stars of the Blue Oval's global revival. The sharp compact has received plenty of critical praise -- and plenty of happy new owners, too.

In fact, the Focus has become a sales leader around the world. It's one of the world's best-selling cars -- but in the U.S., Focus sales have fallen sharply. 

What's the deal?

As Fool contributor John Rosevear explains in this video, there are probably a few different factors holding the Focus back. But as John notes, Ford may be on the verge of giving its global best-seller a big boost.

A transcript of the video follows.

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Hey, Fools, it's John Rosevear. So here are some stark numbers to consider. Toyota  (NYSE: TM  ) sold almost 23,000 Corollas in the U.S. in January. Honda  (NYSE: HMC  ) sold almost 22,000 Civics. But Ford sold just 12,000 Focuses. We've talked a lot about how the Focus is a very competitive model, maybe the best American compact car ever, one of the world's best-selling cars, a huge seller in places like China and the U.K, but here in the U.S. it has really struggled.

Focus sales were down almost 26% in January. For the year last year, Focus sales were down 4.6%, but a lot of that drop came from big declines in the latter part of the year; sales were down 31% in December. Well, part of the deal is that Ford's other cars have come a long way. The Fiesta just got refreshed last year and has been selling pretty well, and of course the current Fusion, one size up from the Focus, is a very appealing package.

And part of it is that shifting exchange rates have given the Japanese companies some room to cut prices, which is a big advantage with compact cars. But another part of this is just something that happens in the car business. We still think of the Focus as a shining example of the new Ford, the overhauled Ford that has great profits and much-improved quality, but the truth is at this point the Focus is one of Ford's older models. Meanwhile, the Corolla was all new last fall, and the Civic got a major refresh for the 2013 model year that made it much more competitive. An all-new Focus is still a few years away, but it's time for a refreshed version of the Focus, with maybe an updated grille and some improvements in the interior and some new features.

And sure enough, the automotive rumor mill says that such a Focus is coming soon. It's expected that Ford will show off the 2015 Focus at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland in March. That's a major auto show for the European market, where the Focus is a big seller. We're hearing that the refreshed Focus will get a big Aston Martin-type grille like the Fusion, along with some other small styling tweaks to the front and rear end caps.

If you've been in a current Focus, you know that on the center stack -- that's the part of the dash that's between the front seats -- on the Focus' center stack there are a whole bunch of buttons in a layout that looks sort of like a giant cell-phone keypad. That's going away, we hear; it'll be replaced by more conventional climate controls, a trend we've seen in other recent Ford products.

We also hear that there may be a plug-in hybrid version of the Focus coming, using a system similar to what's in the plug-in version of the C-Max, which would give it around 20 miles of electric-only range when it's charged up.

We'll have all the details for you as soon as Ford releases them. Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 3:22 PM, Nomopar4me wrote:

    Focus sales are slipping due to ongoing issues with the DPS6 automatically shifted manual transmission and to a much lesser degree, MyFordTouch.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 3:33 PM, legacys7 wrote:

    Ford's problem, like the other Big 3 is warranties and prices. The cars that they sale overseas are successful because they know that they have to meet up to the standards over in Europe. Fords, GM and Chrysler are different cars over in Europe. It's a shame that they don't do that over here. I like the Ford Focus. I wanted that before the Toyota Corolla that I'd purchased a few weeks ago. But Toyota had a better deal and warranty for the 2013. Foes Focus is a fun car to drive with better drive and power. But Toyota wins on policies etc.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 3:38 PM, notech47 wrote:

    Transmission issues seem to be a common concern but I think it's a perception rather than a actual problem. My Ford Touch screen, in my opinion, works very well. I don't see any problem with it except the people that don't like it are NOT tech savvy.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 3:59 PM, nomad1956 wrote:

    The problem is it's a FORD !!

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 7:20 PM, Bobt1892 wrote:

    I really believe Ford is missing the boat here. They have a great little vehicle in the Focus. They have a great hybrid engine and transmission that could work wonders in this vehicle. Beef up the Focus a little in better suspension and seating comfort and they could go head to head with any import from Japan they already match them in mpg.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 7:04 AM, bcweir wrote:

    Kind of makes a statement about the original design considering that the current model is barely two years old and ALREADY in need of a refresh, doesn't it?

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 7:48 AM, imDanielle2 wrote:

    Ford transmission/Warranty sucks! Good luck if you have to deal with those idiots!

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 11:09 AM, NoVaEarly wrote:

    Ford has six major problems with the current Focus. Prices are too high for the segment, it weighs too much which hurts handling and mpg, MyFordTouch is not user friendly enough to be compulsory on so many configurations, the transmission shifts far too often meaning it either needs more power or a better transmission, unimpressive warranties, and an ugly grille. Given that my family has had three Ford transmissions give up prematurely despite proper maintenance and no abuse, the transmission is the biggest reason we now own five trouble free Subarus.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 12:14 PM, Soakee wrote:

    The solution to the supposed DPS6 issues? Buy the manual transmission.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 2:54 PM, Nohurry1 wrote:

    There's so much negative talk here, I have to laugh. Transmission issues are almost 100% non-existent in the Focus and considering it's essentially the best selling car in the world right now, we'd probably know if the case were anything else.

    I skipped on Focus because I wanted more power. That also caused me to skip the Civic, Corolla and Sentra. I nearly got the ST, but insisted on an auto transmission.

    Fact is, the transmission is rarely the problem in any vehicle and the real problems are almost always electrical/electronic, but people who know very little about vehicles will associate problems to a bigger issue than they are, often because a dealers service tech will do the same. I was told of a recall on my 1991 Mustang due to a faulty transmission and it turned out to be a single clip at the throttle body connection for shift control, attached via cable to the actual trans, which didn't have a problem at all.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 3:45 PM, FLLMTR wrote:

    I looked at a Focus 5-door and was shocked by the insurance rates. It was nearly as high as a 5.0 Mustang. After a little more sleuthing, I learned about the transmission problems that these models have been having and these two factors became the deal killer.

    I love the car, but Ford needs to fix these issues.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 5:52 PM, NoVaEarly wrote:

    Nohurry, issues on a 23 year old auto are irrelevant now. Ford makes 1/6 of the cars sold in this country and still can't make a transmission that can make it to 150K without so kind of issue, Electrical or mechanical, a problem is a problem and shouldn't be tolerated on modern autos.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 10:46 AM, cityperson wrote:

    Between the price and insurance rates you may as well buy the smaller model BMR. Everytime a vehicle is made by and American compay here or in aniothe country, the price starts out low and in a few years it is out of sight.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 1:29 PM, Nomopar4me wrote:

    The DPS6 automatically shifted manual transmission is heavily plagued by clutch issues, usually the result of leaking input seals. The seals (usually, but not always the root cause) have been redesigned three times and had countless software updates. This is VERY MUCH a real problem. So much so that instead of replacing clutches that are wet with transmission fluid, Ford is having the repairing techs clean them. Ask any dealer why their transmission repair numbers on their 126 report are so high....

  • Report this Comment On April 17, 2014, at 4:27 PM, thiagorulez wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Our old car didn't have automatic transmission. We definitely will be looking for that on all future vehicles. Thiago | <a href='' ></a>

  • Report this Comment On April 09, 2015, at 6:24 AM, roys1955 wrote:

    Ford, if your listening, please just fix the transmission. Its a great car with a standard trans.

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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