Ford (NYSE: F ) revealed the all-new Escort sedan at Beijing's huge auto show on Sunday.
Yes, it's an all-new Ford Escort. It's a new compact sedan that is mechanically related to the Ford Focus. Ford may roll it out elsewhere, but the Escort has been designed with the Chinese market in mind.
Ford's Focus has been a huge hit in China, a key driver of the Blue Oval's massive sales growth in the Middle Kingdom over the last couple of years. Clearly, the Escort is intended to build on that success.
A Ford developed in China, with Chinese needs in mind
So what is this car? As we saw in the concept version that Ford showed off a year ago, the new Escort is essentially a Focus sedan that has been changed in some key ways to cater to Chinese tastes and needs.
First and foremost, it's got more rear-seat legroom than a Focus. Here in America, we mostly think of the back seat as a place for kids. But in China, back-seat space and amenities are a key selling point.
Car-owners who can afford to do so often hire professional drivers to deal with China's crazy urban traffic, and so often the person buying the car is planning to ride in the back seat.
That may be less of a consideration with an affordable compact car like the Escort. But the back seat is still a priority for Chinese families, even if they're not in a position to hire a driver: It's not just the kids who ride in back, it's often their grandparents as well.
Focus too flashy for you? Consider the Escort
Stylistically, the Escort looks like a toned-down Focus sedan. That's also no accident: A big part of Ford's appeal in China is that Ford's current global models aren't ostentatious, but they're still nice. They're well-appointed with comfortable, quiet interiors and lots of high-tech features, without seeming too pretentious.
As I said, the Focus has been a huge hit for Ford in China, one of the country's best-sellers month after month. But apparently, some Chinese folks think that the current global Focus is still a bit too flashy for their tastes.
As Ford put it in their press release announcing the Escort, "Ford's market research revealed that there is a sub-group of Chinese consumers in the compact car segment who are looking for a sedan that is stylish without appearing arrogant or pretentious, one that fits comfortably into a balanced life with family and friends."
The Escort is a little plainer than the Focus, but still attractive, with a version of Ford's global Aston Martin-ish grille up front and a simple taillight design in back. But it has premium details of its own, including LED headlight trims.
Inside, it's a little roomier than the Focus, of course. The Escort's interior is in some ways simpler than that of the Focus, but it has a premium look of its own. It includes some specific luxury features, like perforated leather on the seats, that appealed to Chinese customers in Ford's research.
There are high-tech touches, too. Ford highlighted a new system called the Device Dock, which is "a new way to store, mount and charge devices like mobile phones, MP3 players and satellite navigation systems" that also integrates them into the car's infotainment system.
The Escort will be offered with just one engine choice, Ford's 1.4-liter four-cylinder. That engine is currently offered in the Fiesta in some markets; in the Fiesta, it makes 95 horsepower.
A carefully targeted product to build on Ford's success in China
Ford didn't release pricing on the new Escort, so we'll have to wait and see how it fits in with the two versions of the Focus that Ford currently sells in China. Aside from the current global Focus, which is called "New Focus" and positioned as a premium product in China, there's also the Classic Focus, which is a value-priced entry based on Ford's last-generation European Focus.
Could the Escort come to the U.S.? It's not out of the question. At the very least, Ford is likely to offer it in markets besides China. Ford CEO Alan Mulally told reporters in Beijing on Sunday that while the Escort was developed specifically for Chinese tastes, the result is a product that could "sell around the world".
So how does a special Chinese-market model fit in with "One Ford", the company's plan to offer a single lineup of vehicles around the world? Quite well, actually: As a variant of the Focus, the Escort probably didn't cost much to develop -- and it can almost certainly be built on the same assembly line, using many of the same parts under the skin.
Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY ) does this sort of thing all the time, developing regional models quickly and at low cost by using existing platforms and engineering. Given Ford's success in this part of the market in China, it makes sense to invest in a Focus variant that could help it to capture even more sales.
It looks from here like a product that could be a big winner for Ford in China. Ford says it will roll out later this year; we'll be watching its sales numbers closely.
What do you think? Should Ford offer the new Escort in the United States, too? Is this a car you'd consider buying, if it were made here in the U.S. and offered at your local Ford dealer? Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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