Ford's 2015 Focus. Source: Ford Motor Company

A little over a decade ago, Detroit automakers were well known for their gas-guzzling behemoth SUV's that clogged up America's roads. Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Chrysler were also known as kings of the full-size trucks, a segment that Japanese automakers couldn't break into no matter how hard they tried.

While Detroit's Big Three dominated larger-sized-vehicle segments, they were getting embarrassed by competitors in just about every other car segment. No one wanted a Detroit-made car, no one. With that in mind, it makes Ford's turnaround that much more impressive, and its Focus is one shining example of how far the company has truly come in developing passenger cars.

Comeback king
Ford's Focus retained its title as the best-selling nameplate in the world in 2013, making it a back-to-back champion according to Ford's analysis of IHS automotive data. While Toyota contends the crowning of Ford's Focus as the world's best seller, more on that here, no one can argue against the substantial success of the Focus. 

Sales of the Focus had declined in the U.S. market long before the recession; sales only recently spiked after management dedicated itself to the new "One Ford" strategy to develop more valuable, smaller, and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Graph by author. Data from Automotive News Data Center.

To be atop the global sales rankings, a vehicle has to hit a sweet spot between different markets -- something Ford nailed with the Focus. Ford's Focus has been a huge hit in both Europe and China, where consumers are accepting foreign vehicles at a high rate due to more aggressive styling.

Focus sales in China even surpassed its performance in Ford's most important market, right here in North America. Registrations in China were up 50% last year to 403,219 vehicles, making the country accountable for more than one of every three Focus models sold globally. When totaling global market registrations last year, the small car drove 8.1% higher with nearly 1.1 million vehicles sold. To put that in perspective, that 8.1% growth alone equated to more vehicles sold than Ford's Mustang sold in total, last year.

The good news for Focus fans, and Ford investors, is that the hot streak could extend as the automaker unveiled its new Focus four-door sedan during the current 2014 New York International Auto Show.

Interior of Ford's 2015 Focus. Source: Ford Motor Company

What's next?
"With the new car, we've raised the bar again, showcasing Ford's commitment to continuous improvement -- adding better technology for drivers and a sleeker, more modern exterior across the entire Focus family." said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president, Ford Motor Company Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln.

Technology continues to be a driver of sales in modern vehicles, as younger consumers demand cutting-edge infotainment systems and connectivity. Ford's MyFord Touch has been buggy and hurt the company in Consumer Report's ratings; however, Ford recently claimed to have upgraded the system and reduced errors by two-thirds. As Ford continues to improve its technology in its vehicles, it'll only help improve sales.

Another huge factor behind Ford's revived lineup of passenger cars is improved fuel economy, and one of the more interesting additions to the Focus: a new powertrain.


Ford's 2015 shows off a more aggressive look. Source: Ford Motor Company

Ford will bring its award-winning 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine with a new six-speed manual transmission that is expected to raise the bar in fuel economy among non-hybrid compact vehicles, according to Ford. While smaller engines like the 1.0-liter EcoBoost have sold well in Europe, consumer tastes in the U.S. are just now reaching the point when such small engines are not only acceptable, but in demand.

In addition to improved technology and fuel economy the redesigned Focus will have a more aggressive and bolder look while keeping Ford's signature front grille. The Focus will also boast an improved interior look.

Foolish takeaway
The Focus, among other passenger cars, represents how far Ford has really come over the last decade in producing more valuable and fuel-efficient vehicles that consumers in the U.S. actually want to buy. Sales of the Focus have spiked around the world and look for the new-look Focus to continue driving sales higher -- a win for Focus fans and Ford investors alike. 

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Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.