With high-margin trucks and SUVs filling most buyers' needs at the moment, making small cars is becoming an expensive proposition that might not always be worth it. But Ford has a plan -- one that Volkswagen's already used to good success.
Ford's secret is a do-it-all vehicle platform that can underpin a number of vehicles across multiple markets. Joe Bakaj, Ford of Europe's head of engineering, told Automotive News that this new chassis is a "holy grail" that could save the company $4 billion in engineering costs over the next five years, starting with the new .
All vehicles are built on a platform, the skeleton onto which the powertrain and body are attached. Some, like Volkswagen's MQB platform, can be manipulated, extended or compacted to underpin a number of vehicles. Right now, MQB is used as the base for about two-dozen cars across the globe, including many US-market cars like the, , and . In fact, MQB covers about 40 percent of all new cars that Volkswagen sells around the world.
Ford's platform is front-wheel-drive based, and it will underpin everything from subcompacts to minivans and midsize crossovers. It's built to accommodate 48-volt mild hybrid systems, too, as more automakers are using these beefed-up batteries to boost fuel economy.
Ford's still-unnamed platform has a certain number of fixed points, which won't change from vehicle to vehicle, like the distance between the driver's foot and the front axle. This allows multiple cars to take advantage of common parts, including air conditioning units, handbrakes, transmissions and infotainment systems. Using these parts over and over will keep costs low and allow Ford to spend its money elsewhere, such as creating new types of high-end trims to boost the average transaction price.
With China as one of Ford's prime targets for the 2019 Focus, this new platform will hopefully allow Ford to make the Focus inexpensive enough to sell well in China without alienating buyers in markets like the US. Considering it's loaded with safety tech and way prettier than the outgoing one, I'd say Ford's off to a good start already.