When Ford recruited Alan Mulally from the Boeing Company to be its CEO in 2006, the Blue Oval was in trouble. Costs were high, the ‘English Patients’, Jaguar and Land Rover, were hemorrhaging money, and investment in new product and platforms was desperately needed.
The concept that Mr. Mulally introduced to the company, “One Ford”, preached a streamlining of platforms, shared around the world, with the inherent efficiencies of reduced cost from increased volumes and improved quality from standardization. Vehicles would be customized for each market. Things like interiors, suspension settings and exterior and interior colours are relatively easy to tailor for different countries. But a radio switch is a radio switch; a steering wheel is a steering wheel no matter where in the world you are, and it’s less expensive per unit to purchase two million steering wheels than 200,000 used in 10 markets.
As a result, Ford is now one of the more profitable car companies. Of the Detroit Three, it was the only one without a hand out for money in 2008. It didn’t declare bankruptcy, resulting in a massive increase in market share when General Motors and Chrysler took that path.
However, homogenization has its dangers. The one-size-fits-all approach can turn some buyers off. They don’t want to be seen driving the same thing as the person down the street. It may look good on the balance sheet, but how does it work out in the marketplace?
Judging from recent performance, it works out just fine. Ford has sold more vehicles to date this year in Canada than either GM or Chrysler, and leads the industry in market share.
The compact car segment in Canada is the most hotly contested, followed closely by compact sport utilities. These cars are the bread and butter of the industry. Be successful in this segment, and over time, you can move your customer into larger, more expensive vehicles, based on the experience they’ve had with your particular compact car.
And when you discuss compact cars, the conversation usually turns to Honda.
Compact cars are often viewed as appliances, devoid of excitement, filled with plain, people-moving purpose, and lacking personality. Honda has addressed this with its hot sedan, the Civic Si. Equipped with a high-revving 2.4 litre, four-cylinder engine, generating 201 horsepower at 7,000 rpm coupled with a six-speed manual transmission, this vehicle puts excitement into the Civic lineup.
Ford takes a different approach with the Fiesta ST. It’s a hot hatch, with a turbocharged (EcoBoost in Ford parlance) 1.6 litre four-cylinder engine generating 197 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The ST is also fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission. Since the Civic Si and Fiesta ST are a good match in horsepower, we’re using the Fiesta instead of the Focus as a comparison (for now).
The personalities vary. Civic Si is a somewhat larger car on the outside, while Fiesta has more front headroom than Civic Si. This is mostly accounted for by the standard moonroof found on Civic, an extra cost option on Fiesta. Civic’s engine is a screamer, with a red-line of 7,000 rpm, producing its peak torque of 170 lbs-ft at 4,400 rpm. The turbo in the Fiesta red lines at 6,000 rpm and produces 202 lbs-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. The Fiesta will feel stronger taking off from a stoplight, and it only gives up four horsepower to the Civic.
A wide range of amenities move these vehicles upmarket. Ford’s Sync system pairs a smartphone with the audio system, allowing you to stream music via Bluetooth to the audio system. Use voice commands to control your phone and other vehicle functions such as the ventilation system. Civic can do much the same, while maintaining the volume and station buttons for the audio system that Ford has eliminated. Both systems are capable of replying to incoming text messages using preset responses.
Fiesta has style tailored to performance. Form-fitted Recaro seats, aluminum-trimmed pedals, a jaunty tailgate spoiler and a great set of chiseled five spoke alloy wheels all say speed. With 197 horsepower, the ST delivers on the promise.
Let’s take a look at the common equipment on these two vehicles:
Features from higher level cars have trickled down to these vehicles. Automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth streaming audio and heated seats used to be exclusive to upscale cars. A comprehensive list of safety features round out the cost of entry.
Honda has a very strong value story, even at a higher retail price. Items like a power moonroof, height adjustable driver’s seat, navigation system and premium audio skew the Civic Si to creature comforts. Fiesta has a practical bent, with a rear window wiper, a tonneau cover to keep valuables hidden, a heated wiper park to defrost the blades in cold weather and a leather interior with go-fast offsetting cloth inserts.
Despite its smaller size, Fiesta is big on the inside. The more staid four-door configuration of Civic gives more overall interior room and a larger trunk.
If you’re looking for performance in a slightly smaller package, Fiesta ST is the one for you. A more conventional body style, with luxury amenities to temper your inner boy or girl racer, is found with Civic Si. Two hot cars for the hottest segment in the marketplace.