One of the most fascinating trends to track over the past few months and years has been just how quickly the Indian automobile market reaches the next level of maturity. Things that took years—or even decades—in the West sometimes happen here within weeks. I am talking about the acceptance of segments, sub-segments and innovations. So India has moved from the notion that small hatchbacks should only be for those who cannot afford larger, to having a multitude of premium hatchback models in the market. That trend cemented itself in 2010, and I believe that 2011 is the year where we will see the humble C-segment sedan get more exciting.
In product terms, this happened years ago with the Honda City and the more recent Volkswagen Vento and Fiat Linea. But the budget sedan is looking sexier and more powerful with each new model launch. And that is exactly what Ford has been eyeing keenly for India.
On the highway: The four-door Ford Fiesta sedan will be the big launch for 2011 in India.
The company has a new sense of resurgence after its dramatic turnaround in the US and the rest of the world since the crisis that hit Detroit in 2008—with its One Ford strategy. The company is selling more of its cars in newer markets today than ever before, and these are mostly global models—the same car in different markets. In India after years of near-slumber, the Figo’s spectacular success has added impetus to the business decisions being taken at Ford headquarters, for this country too.
So here comes the scoop! I had the chance to see this up close at the large AutoAlliance Thailand (AAT) unit that Ford shares with Mazda. This plant also supports operations for Ford in India, since we get parts and kits for much of the Ford India range from here.
AAT will be the starting point for the next few roll-outs from the Blue Oval in India. The first of eight new models promised to us by 2015 will be the next generation of the Fiesta. This car has been extremely successful since its 2009 world debut, but while initially launched only in three- and five-door avatars, the Fiesta’s four-door sedan version debuted in China and then the US and Thailand only last year. And this in fact, ladies and gentlemen, will be Ford’s next model in India—its big launch for 2011.
There has been lots of speculation about whether Ford will launch the sedan or the hatch, or both. Well, let me clear the air—and confirm—that the sedan arrives first. The hatch will follow as Ford does see tremendous potential in the Indian small car space, and has a multiple product strategy for the long term. Ford engineers are also working hard to develop an MPV on the same Fiesta platform that could seat seven-eight people. But let me not get ahead of myself, and tell you more about the car that arrives by mid-2011.
The sixth-generation Fiesta is the embodiment of Ford’s “Kinetic Styling”, which we have seen to a certain extent in the Figo. This involves the use of headlamps that sweep upwards and a trapezoidal front grille. In fact the whole shape of the car looks windswept, rising as it travels to the rear. Inside, the car has reasonably generous proportions, but will not give the impression of being the largest in its class due to the sloping roof line. I still believe, however, that the cabin and the overall looks of the car will attract a younger, upwardly mobile buyer who wants something sporty, young and fun, and yet seeks a family car. There will be no base or stripped-down variant, and features such as dual airbags and even audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, will be standard. There will be optional leather upholstery too, but no beige trim—unlike the rest of the brigade!
The Ford India team is carrying out very few modifications to the car—and it will be the South Asian specification that will drive in. But the suspension will be tuned for Indian roads, and there will be 15-inch wheels—to enhance ground clearance on the Indian car by 15mm. The focus in India will also be on high fuel efficiency. The part that does excite me more is the new range of engines Ford is working on to power the Fiesta in India. These will replace the current engines on the car that I drove in Thailand—which are the 1.4- and 1.6-litre Duratec petrol engines. Expect the new engine family to be similar in attribute though more punchy, and, yes, it will be a combination of the new 1.4 Duratec and an updated and new 1.4-litre Duratorq diesel to power the line-up in India. The Figo in India uses the older iteration of the 1.4 Duratorq diesel and I expect the new engine to replace the Figo’s too, but only later. The advantage Ford will get, though, is the economies of scale that it will achieve by sharing drivetrains with the Figo.
The cars I did drive were responsive, fairly athletic and sported a nice taut ride—which even those who prefer the back seat will appreciate. But I will have to wait for the new engines before giving you the final review on the performance.
The prices will be competitive, and I expect Ford to be as aggressive as it has been with the Figo—in relative terms of course. Expect the Fiesta by June, priced at Rs7-9 lakh. There will be three variants; the top two variants will be Bluetooth-enabled and will have voice-activated controls. You may wonder what happens to the current Fiesta on our roads right now. Well, Ford is likely to do what many others have, and keep that car as the base, entry-level model—a position I expect the ageing Ikon will vacate sooner than later. So expect a cheaper version of the current car with fewer features to arrive too and complement the sixth-generation. With the Figo, the old and new Fiesta, and yes, the subsequent Fiesta hatch, Ford will have a fair amount of firepower to take on the volume segments in India.
You cannot compare this with Maruti Suzuki but still, players such as Hyundai and General Motors (GM) will be worried. Of course, they are also planning multiple new model introductions this year, so as I always say—let the games begin!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org