A. Lin Neumann
Bangkok. In the tarted-up world of the Bangkok International Motor Show this past week, Ford stood out for what it didn’t do. While neighboring booths had prancing models and giggling girls draped over hoods, Ford had a car and a guy in a suit.
Ford’s Shanghai-based president for Asia Pacific and Africa, Joe Hinrichs, stood on a rotating stage and unveiled the reworked and impressively high-tech Ford Focus.
The absence of sexy car-show girls served as a reminder that Ford, which is pushing to gain market share in the Asean region, is at heart a blue-collar car company that Hinrichs said is returning to its roots with models like the “all new” Focus and last year’s “all new” compact Fiesta, which helped Ford to the fastest sales g rowth in Asean in 2011. In Indonesia sales for No. 9 Ford grew last year by 94 percent.
A n “all new” Ranger pickup has also been unveiled but was delayed due to supply chain problems after last year’s floods in Thailand.
The Ranger and the Focus are the first two of a planned eight global “One Ford” models that will be sold in every market where Ford has a presence. By the end of the decade all eight will be on offer in Asean.
“We’re transforming the Ford brand worldwide,” Hinrichs said as he unveiled the compact Focus.
The economy car will be produced in Ford’s new $450 million manufacturing plant in Thailand. It will likely be available in Indonesia in August, the company says, along with the Ranger pickup.
Hinrichs said Ford has no plans to roll out luxury or high-end vehicles in Asean – no Lincolns, no Mustangs – because it wants to compete for the middle-class market. “Ford is about being affordable,” said Hinrichs, who is often named as a possible CEO for the giant company. “That is our strength.”
The Focus, whose body has been tweaked from previous models, seems to justify its “all new” hype when you consider a package of high-tech features that are normally found on higher-end models.
Using sensors and radar, the car’s “Active City Stop” can detect a looming collision at speeds under 30 km/h and apply the brakes automatically. The same sensors let the car parallel park itself by detecting a big enough space and allowing the driver to sit back and let a computer nudge the vehicle into the slot.
Other features include keyless entry, in which the car lets you enter and start the vehicle without fumbling to unlock anything as long as you have a key nearby. It also has a blind spot information system that uses radar to flash up alerts on the side door mirrors.
“Torque Vectoring Control” reacts to the road surface “100 times per second,” the company says, allowing for greater cornering stability but leading me to wonder how they divided up a second into 100 segments.
Talk to Me
And once you are settled into your new package of gear-head wonders, Ford’s SYNC technology offers voice-activated operation of smartphones and music players. The thing will even send and read text messages and interpret common abbreviations and emoticons. It’s a little creepy to have a car say, “laugh out loud” followed by “big grin,” but I am sure you can get used to it.
For music, it will build playlists and search your iPod library, so that you can ask for that special Simply Red track from 1992 that you just have to listen to right now as you wait for the traffic at the Semanggi cloverleaf to clear.
The Focus comes with a Duratec 2.0 liter TI-VCT GDI engine that combines high-pressure gasoline direct injection (GDI) and twin independent variable camshaft timing (TI-VCT). Wedded to a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine promises about 20 percent more power than previous Focus models and better fuel efficiency.
The car will also be offered with a more modest 1.6-liter TI-VCT.