Fiesta ST incoming, mainstream models to go

With the small car market having gone from boom to bust, Ford has decided to pull its Fiesta in all but ST format.

MARKEDLY changed conditions in the small car sector has determined Ford New Zealand to reduce its Fiesta selection to simply a hot hatch format.

Since announcing yesterday that the high-performance ST version of the new-generation car will come to New Zealand next year, Ford here has now revealed that it is not going to take any regular variants.

There’s no immediate cause for concern to the few remaining fans of a former New Zealand Car of the Year whose popularity has slipped to the point where it has not made the annual top 15 sales favourites’ list for the past two years and now lags well behind the Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift and Mazda2.

Supply of the current generation Sport and Trend is expected to last until the end of 2018, Ford NZ corporate communications spokesman Tom Clancy said.

“It’s not immediate. We will likely have supply out of Thailand until the end of the year, but eventually the ST will be the only Fiesta available.”

While there are reports – which Clancy did not comment on – that the current Fiesta will continue in production from the plant in Thailand that supplies the mainstream editions at present, Ford NZ will not take advantage.

Nor is it going to take the everyman editions of the new-gen car, which is already out in Europe, which solely supplies from Germany, where the current and next-gen ST is also built.

Clancy says the reason for discontinuing with all but the ST is simple: The bottom has fallen out of the small car sector.

“Overall, the segment is shrinking – like a lot of segments. Everyone is moving away from it. It’s about the demand for it … if we wanted to get more, we could, we’d just turn on the tap, but it’s just a changing market.

“But there’s still some potential for the ST, that still has quite a fan base out there.”

Even so, there is no pretence within Ford NZ HQ about the ST being anything more than a niche performer; though Clancy could not provide annual registrations counts, he agreed the car is a modest seller in overall terms.

While the fanbase will likely stay loyal, it’s chances of securing too much conquest business was limited by factors including that it was continuing in solely manual gearbox format.

Ford Australia has also decided to abandon the mainstream Fiesta, yet even though our market and model choice decisions are closely aligned to our neighbour’s, it does not mean Ford NZ does not have opportunity to act unilaterally, Clancy said.

So, in theory, could the new-gen Fiesta return in its general issue formats, this time out of Germany, even if Australia kept its own door closed?

Clancy said it would not be that easy: It would involve getting a programme approved. I’m sure we could at some point, but it’s not in the plan.

“It would certainly help if we were to get a larger programme approved with them (Australia). But we’ve gone on our own with other things, so it is not a necessity.”

The decision does not affect the Fiesta-based EcoSport crossover. That model is finally about to locally achieve significant revisions, including an exterior redesign that removes the spare wheel from the back door, a new drivetrain and a complete interior refit.

These are changes some other markets, the United Kingdom included, have enjoyed for the best part of two years – because they take their stock from a plant in Eastern Europe, whereas the NZ stock comes out of a facility in India that was challenged to effect the updates.

Ford NZ has yet to pinpoint a launch month for ST and is yet to confirm if it will be offered in three- or five-door hatchback guise.

The model runs a 1.5-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 149kW and 290Nm, up 15kW and 50Nm over the current four-pot edition.

Ford says the front-drive car can sprint from standstill to 100kmh in 6.7 seconds, which makes it a match for its 147kW/320Nm Volkswagen Polo GTI and 147kW/260Nm Renault Clio RS Sport rivals and gives a handy lead over the Suzuki Swift Sport.
Claimed overall fuel consumption of 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle test and carbon dioxide emissions of 114 grams per km are said to be best in class and are influenced by a cylinder deactivation system and petrol particulate filter.

Just like the Focus RS stablemate, the ST features three driving modes – Normal, Sport and Track – which allow the driver to adjust engine, exhaust, steering and stability control settings on the move.

A torque vectoring system also features, helping to improve road-holding and reduce understeer by gently braking the inside front wheel during cornering.

ST’s sports treatment includes a bodykit and 18-inch alloy wheels, Recaro sports seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel.

It comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen Sync3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, while a Bang and Olufsen Play sound system is optional.

The Fiesta announcements also tie to other big news: Ford Australia’s official return to Supercars racing, with the Mustang coupe next year set to take on the Holden ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima sedan, all in V8 form. This represents  huge U-turn insofar that, for the past year, Ford here in the US has said the Mustang did not conform to this series.