The black Fiesta stood out like a shiny new penny on the sidewalk. The car certainly was striking, but it really popped because it wasn't where it was supposed to be. I was a bit lost, walking the neighborhoods of San Francisco trying to navigate a steeplechase of barriers that had been erected the night before in preparation for Carnavale San Francisco. Every street I turned down was impassible and I had to keep falling back further and further. Making matters worse, I was low on caffeine and under dressed for a cold, drizzly San Francisco day. I looked like freakin' tourist with my shorts and my SLR hanging around my neck. Then out of nowhere, in a flash of black and chrome, there was a Fiesta--the first one I have seen in the wild. It looked European, sleek and very much at home in our City by the Bay. I fumbled to turn my camera on, but it was too late, the car was gone.
I finally made it to my destination and was greeted by one of the local members of the Fiesta Movement tour. I had prepared an entire list of questions for the Ford team to answer, but it became clear early on that these questions would not be answered. The Ford team either did not know the answers or they were not at liberty to discuss. In exchange for question and answer, I was handed a fact sheet. U.S. pricing is estimated to be in the $15,000 range, fuel mileage will be approximately 40MPG, the Fiesta will be assembled in Cuautitlan, Mexico and the target demographics include people between the ages of 16-31 who want a car that expresses who they are and makes them stand out in a crowd. There, now you know what I know.
The real crux of this story isn't facts or figures, however, it's about a little car and big aspirations. The Ford team was generous with their time and pretty much gave me free reign over the test drive route. We took the lime green hatchback all over town and out onto the freeway. From my time behind the wheel, I can tell you that the little Fiesta offers a comfortable ride, crisp handling and zippy performance when mated to a manual transmission. The interior plastics are soft to the touch and the cabin has a general feeling of being one or two notches above in MSRP from where it will actually retail. Of course, this is where things get tricky. The is NOT the U.S. version of the Fiesta. The car I drove was built in Germany for the European market. Ford simply got a waiver from the government to bring over a boat load of these cars for testing. The concern is, what will Ford do to this little cherry of a car in the process of federalizing it? Of course there a minor adjustments for emissions and safety requirements, but the real worry is that Ford will mess with other components either to save costs or theoretically make the Fiesta more appealing to Americans.
Last July, I reached out to Said Deep, Ford North America and Global Product Communications Manager, about the U.S. Fiesta. I want to clarify at the outset that because these products are a ways off, we did not discuss specifics, but rather spoke in generalities about consumer expectations and true “parts sharing.” My first concern was regarding interior plastics. Speaking to different trim pieces, Said stated “If it’s not the same part number, then it's not really parts sharing.” That would mean that for a supplier to truly reap the benefits of volume production, they need to know that they can tap into global demand—be it here in the U.S., Asia or Europe. Tack on a few hundred thousand extra dash panels and suddenly the price per unit drops for all units sold. That statement implied to me that Ford will keeps its mitts off the nice trim pieces. Of course, that was July 2008 and a lot has happened since then. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
What about all the fancy gadgets? In the past, European small cars have been chock-full of wondrous options that are only offered on premium vehicles here in the U.S. The argument went that U.S. customers simply would not pay the extra money for such features, so why offer them? This attitude is changing rapidly. People downsizing from a loaded SUVs are expecting to find all the great features, such as navigation, backup camera, leather, etc, they had in their old vehicles in their new rides. Ford is seeing a lot of showroom interest in smaller vehicles laden with content. This is important because it gives Ford a good feeling about offering even more premium content, which in turn will boost the average transaction price upwards and subsequently will increase dealership and manufacturer profits. If you need any confirmation of how hungry Americans are for well-equipped small cars, just hop on over to Mini’s site and equip a Cooper with all the options. You can easily add 50% to the cost of the vehicle by throwing on all sorts of premium features. How’s that working out for Mini? Pretty darn well if you look at their sales history in the U.S. market. Of course, Ford will tailor each car to the local market in which it is being sold. However, it seems that Ford does “get it” and won’t be stripping out the Euro-interiors and installing “Tempo chic” hard and shiny plastic interiors with limited options availability. Will every option that is offered in Europe be offered in sister vehicles offered here? There will be exceptions, of that I’m sure, but Said did offer up that any options offered in Europe will be in Ford’s bag of tricks and could easily be offered on our cars should Ford sense demand for them. One American feature that I'll be looking for is Ford's Sync system. The Fiesta team would not commit to the U.S. Fiesta having this feature, but I think its safe to say that Sync will be offered.
I asked the Ford team what the general reaction to the Fiesta had been. As you might expect, the answer they gave me was enthusiastic. Given the quality of the car, I don't find this hard to believe. Ford reps said that almost all participants are telling the team that Ford should leave the Fiesta "as is" and not meddle with its DNA. In fact, that's where I got this article's headline, from a participant who told Ford that when it comes to the Euro-spec Fiesta, DNA should stand for "Do Not Adjust." The Ford team collects all of these suggestions and files a daily report with corporate. This bolsters the argument even further that Ford is getting the message loud and clear: don't cheap out on this car. We can only hope that this is the case.
For more info: Check out Ford's 2011 Fiesta page.