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A new Focus

Date: 17 April 2018   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Ford has unveiled its new Focus and the name couldn't be more apt. At the reveal, held in East London, Andy Barratt, chairman and MD at Ford of Britain, spoke exclusively to BusinessCar about the direction the manufacturer has taken with the model, significantly changing it from its predecessor. 

At launch, there will be a line-up of diesel and petrol engines, with a mild hybrid to follow next year. While it could be assumed that the 1.5-litre diesel may become the bestseller of the new Focus offering, Barratt told us that, in fact, he expects a much bigger uptake of petrol than diesel. "That will be driven by the recent VED taxation policy that changed at the end of March, resulting in higher tax for diesel drivers, and even though the latest diesels are as clean as petrols, the tide is turning, even in fleet to a degree because of the residual value effect," he said.

"I think what you may see is fuel taxation coming back. That's a speculation from me and I can't say much more than that, but that's the only lever left to try and stunt diesel demand."

Barratt believes that there is still a place for diesel, as well as petrol, and, increasingly alternative fuels. This view is reflected in the line-up of powertrains available in the Focus line-up. "Diesel has a place, especially on the motorway; people will always want them and that's why we're going to have a great diesel product," he said.

The range will comprise seven variants from launch, starting with Style trim at around £17,930; Zetec at £19,300; ST-Line at £21,570; ST-Line X at £24,050;  Titanium  at £21,550; Titanium X  at £22,820; and Vignale at £25,450.

When asked why a mild hybrid will not be present at launch, Barratt explained, "We will offer a mild hybrid by the end of 2019. When you have a launch as complex as Focus, with certain derivatives coming now and others, such as Active, later, we decided to bring in the powertrain change later. It's the sequencing of the launch timing, nothing else."

Barratt explained that the prices are competitive and lower on the new Focus than the car it replaces. "Despite the amount of technology, the overall package, the new powertrains and it being on the new CT platform, we made it a conscious decision to make the price lower than before. We want the car to be visually appealing, but we can't afford sticker shock on the pricing, either," he said.

The technology on offer is a significant step up on all trims, Barratt claimed. "As a fleet manager, the new embedded modem we're offering in the Focus gives you the ability to be able to connect with the vehicle, but also ensure the safety of your drivers. The car has a low cost of ownership and a residual value increase, compared with the outgoing Focus, because of the massive leap forward in the quality and safety of the car, making it really attractive to fleets. 

In terms of the fleet-to-retail split, Barratt explained that it is generally around 50/50. "If we can grow that volume on both sides and maintain the balance, that is really important for fleet managers," he said. "When they're making the acquisition, they want confidence in the car at the back end when they dispose of it and we're paranoid about resale values. 

"We have very high PCP content at retail, so we control the disposals and, on fleets, we've progressively pulled back rental business; we're no longer in the bodyshop business and we're doing everything we can to protect the value of our cars, so those genuine corporate fleets can have real confidence that we're the manufacturer to choose."

Barratt believes  the fleet customer, in many ways, is just like the retail customer. "But they're just using their company's money instead," he said. "They want something that's visually appealing, and the ST-Line, for example, does just that. Ultimately, with the powertrains, the safety technologies, the connectivity, you start to make this a really easy place for a fleet to go. We're providing a space for the employee to do their business in a safe environment and, ultimately, the Focus is an enabler for the company employees to do their jobs."

As for trim levels in fleet, Barratt surprisingly believes that ST-Line will see the most interest. "It not only has the strongest residual value, but also helps them to differentiate their car offering versus other companies and can attract better talent to their business," he said.

"Focus is such as important car for us. Fiesta is roaring away, but to be able to make a car that's even better than Fiesta at such a competitive price, with so much advanced technology on offer, I think it's safe to say we feel very confident."