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Focus Ute in the works???

September 14, 2008

As speculated by Toby Hagon over at Drive.com.au, it is possible that a Ford Focus Utility (“Ute”) could be in the works right here in Australia at Ford Australia – to be ready for 2011 production with the rest of the Focus range (excl. ST/XR5). Report after the jump…

Here is the story, thanks to Drive.com.au:

Ford Australia looks set to increasingly divert its attention to small cars as large cars continue to lose favour. That could even mean locally developing a small ute for the world. By TOBY HAGON.

Ford Australia could be called on to design a small utility vehicle to be sold around the world as part of the globalization of the brand and a push to evolve small cars.

Ford invented the world’s first ute, now Ford Australia could be asked to reinvent the small ute based on the Focus small car, which it will begin building alongside the Ford Falcon (& Territory – ed) from 2011.

“What I see in Australia is a huge opportunity [to look at] upper body variants,” says Jim Farley, Ford’s global group vice president of marketing and communications, who formerly helped Toyota to the number one position in the United States. He was speaking at the international launch of the new Fiesta hatch, which arrives here in January 2009.

“A lot of people have been toying with the idea of a [small car] pick-up,” he says. “In Australia what would a [small] pick-up truck really be? It would be something I think very creative.”

Farley believes Australia’s innovative thinking and engineering skills could be utilized in the broader Ford world for developing different body shapes on existing vehicle underpinnings.

“Australia I personally think could be one of the markets where upper body silhouette innovation around utility could be globalized because customers would expect it to be more aspirational.”

Small utes are nothing new and have typically attracted plenty of interest in Australia.

Subaru’s Brumby is still loved for its all-wheel-drive traction and simple but honest and reliable construction.

The Proton Jumbuck is another that’s found favor due to its cheap price and compact size.

But Farley wants Ford Australia to think outside the square and develop the concept of a ute and how it may find global appeal.

“I think something could come from Australia that would look and feel very different but be very Australian and be very attractive to other markets,” says Farley.

In an effort to reduce development costs car makers are getting smarter at vehicle design, increasingly sharing major underbody components. The trend is happening across brands and within brands.

With one basic vehicle, for example, a car maker could develop a three- and five-door hatchback, four-door sedan, convertible, wagon, delivery van, people mover, four-wheel drive and even a ute.

To buyers they look like distinct vehicles, but the basic building blocks of the car are shared. Many of the expensive components, such as engines and suspension parts, could be identical.

Ford Australia already has experience in developing different body variants for the same basic underpinnings.

Ford, like Holden, is seen as achieving impressive engineering results on relatively small budgets, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Detroit-based parent companies.

Holden helped develop the current rear-wheel drive architecture within General Motors.

It seems Ford is keen to explore the ingenuity of its Australian engineers when it comes to different body variants.

As well as inventing the car-based ute Ford more recently developed the Territory 4WD-style wagon, which utilises many underpinnings of the Falcon in a more family-friendly package.

As sales of large cars continue to tumble Ford continues to ready itself to build the Focus small car alongside the Falcon in Australia from 2011.

Farley says to be relevant as car makers face increased globalization there must be a change in thinking.

“If you want to be a world global player you’d better figure out your upper body silhouettes strategy in the [small car] segment,” he says.

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