Ford just released a hotter Focus ST hatchback. Its 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 276 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It has an electronic limited slip differential and anti-lag for the turbo. It comes with a six-speed manual. It looks awesome. If you have not fainted yet, there’s a wagon version coming.
The trouble is Ford got out of the U.S. car game. That Focus won’t be sold in the United States. Automotive journos and car enthusiasts, myself included, will lament Ford’s callousness. Fine-tuned performance that translates well from the track to real life at a reasonable price is what we want. But, car enthusiasts are not an indicative sample of the broader car buying public. The Focus ST may be spectacular. But, there’s a reason a lot of great cars don’t make it to the U.S.
Investors want Ford to operate like a lean, future-oriented tech firm. Unless there’s profit or the potential for massive future profits, Ford can’t do it. Ford abandoned the non-Mustang car market because it’s a low-margin gambit. Trucks and SUVs cost about the same to produce. They sell for a lot more per unit. People buy more of them. A Focus, even a fancy Focus, can’t be a niche vehicle.
Selling a hot hatchback in the U.S. is paddling against the current. Europeans love hatchbacks. Seven of the eight top-selling vehicles in Britain last year were hatchbacks. Contrast that with the U.S. where the Tiguan outsold the Golf hatchbacks more than three times over.
That’s not all terrible car taste. America is bigger and flatter than much of Europe. Roads are wider. Parking is easier. Narrow lanes are rare. Efficiency doesn’t matter as much with fuel being less than half the price on average. American weather, not moderated by the Atlantic, tends to be more extreme. Americans tend to opt for cargo space, comfort, and weather resistance over unneeded nimbleness.
Older people don’t buy hot hatchbacks. Wealthier buyers don’t buy hot hatchbacks unless they are branded differently. Young families will buy more practical, bigger vehicles.
Ford is an American company. It may feel wrong to have what may be Ford’s most fun car to drive in a not-straight line reserved for Europeans. But, that has been the case for much of Ford’s history with cars like the Capri, the Sierra, the good Escorts and even earlier iterations of the Focus.
The Focus ST isn’t here for the same reason Mercedes’ A-Class hatch isn’t here. Not to mention the Renault Megane or the Alfa Giulietta. There aren’t enough Americans to buy hot hatchbacks, even if a disproportionate number of them work in the car media.
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