The Ford Escape is the smallest SUV sold in North America. In other markets, including India, the EcoSport serves the growing subcompact crossover utility vehicle segment. A Chennai manufacturing facility may soon produce a US-spec version in time for the 2017 model year.
“One Ford” represents a business strategy adopted by the Ford Motor Company in 2007. Part of that wide-ranging game plan was to accelerate the development of new products, including European-centric models for the US market. That blueprint has been successful as it has brought to America new models ranging from the subcompact Fiesta to the full-size Transit van.
There are still some models in the Ford portfolio that are not stateside. One model pickup truck enthusiasts are well aware of is the Ford Ranger. That truck is no longer sold in the US and the current generation Ranger now employs unibody construction for a car-like ride.
Sorry, fans — Ford continues to insist that the Ranger is for all markets except for North America. Ford wants you to buy an F-150 and nothing else.
One model that Ford has in select markets that could very well make its North American debut in time for the 2017 model year is the Ford EcoSport. This crossover utility vehicle or SUV is tiny and would slot below the Ford Escape, a compact model. Auto Trends has learned that Ford is seriously considering importing the EcoSport from one of the four overseas factories where it is produced. Specifically, Ford India continues to crop up as the manufacturing source with its Chennai assembly plant producing same.
So, why would Ford be interested in adding the EcoSport to its product line? And what effect would the new model have on its other products?
First, the EcoSport is needed to enable Ford to compete with the emerging subcompact SUV segment largely founded by the Nissan in the Juke, but since joined by the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and the Fiat 500X. The Mazda CX-3 will arrive this fall and a next-generation Juke will follow in 2016. Based on the Juke’s past numbers, sales potential for the EcoSport is likely in the neighborhood of 10,000 units per month when production ramps up. That’s 120,000 models that Ford isn’t selling at the moment.
Second, top to bottom the Ford SUV lineup is solid, except for one model: the Ford Flex. The Flex has its following, but it’s a curious model crowded out by the five-passenger Edge and the seven-passenger Explorer. Its upscale twin, the Lincoln MKT is nearly invisible. Together, the two will barely account for 25,000 units sold this year. That’s too small of a number to invest in a new model that should hit the market by 2017. So, say goodbye to the Flex/MKT and hello to the EcoSport.
Low-Priced Indian Product
Bringing a model such as the EcoSport to the US market is not a simple process as emissions and crashworthiness requirements must be met. Its an investment Ford will make, one that will add thousands of dollars to the sticker price. But that shouldn’t make the EcoSport uncompetitive as it retails for 675,000 Indian Rupee (INR) or just $10,532.58 in US currency. Most models in this segment start somewhere around $18,000 to $19,000.
Like other Ford products built abroad, the EcoSport has a variety of gasoline and diesel engine choices. But neither the 1.0-liter three-cylinder or a diesel seems reasonable for the US market, but the 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine does. For the US, the 5-speed manual transmission seems unlikely, but a 6-speed automatic would be spot on. Offer a 6-speed manual too and you may have some additional takers.
This five-passenger model offers standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. It also has all the convenience features that Ford fans want, including fog lamps, roof rails, running boards, alloy wheels, Ford Sync telematics, and a rearview camera. Some things would need to change, including updating telematics to Sync 3, adding in the required safety features and probably benchmarking the Honda HR-V. Just as Honda is the sales leader in the compact SUV market with is CR-V, it intends to do likewise in the HR-V.
Ready for Export?
Producing the Ford EcoSport for the North American market would be a boon for the Chennai plant. It might also cast a positive light on the automaker’s efforts to make a dent in this emerging market. And Ford needs more than just a dent as it sells just 12-15,000 new vehicles per month, giving it just 3 percent of the Indian new car market.
See Also — Tiny Crossover Segment Set to Explode
Photos copyright Ford India.