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Old 02-26-2002, 08:49   #1 (permalink)
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Ford aiming under-$18,000 SVT Focus...

Ford aiming under-$18,000 SVT Focus at young Japanese car enthusiasts


By RICK KRANZ
Automotive News

PASADENA, Calif. — Ford Motor Co. is aiming its new pocket rocket at Japanese car enthusiasts who spend thousands souping up their front-drive cars.

The car is the 2002 Ford SVT Focus, a new under-$18,000, three-door hatchback developed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. Until now, SVT has been known for two rear-drive, high horsepower V-8 models, the SVT Mustang Cobra and the SVT F-150 Lightning pickup, as well as the short-lived SVT Contour.

While the SVT Focus will be sold nationwide at 599 Ford dealerships, the West Coast market is where Ford wants to make an impression.

“The whole front-wheel-drive performance craze started in California,” evolving from the “big crop” of used Japanese cars, particularly Hondas, said Tom Scarpello, Ford SVT marketing and sales manager.

“We have to break into that market, establish our credibility and prove that we are serious. I think over time we can start to pull them in and convince them that Ford really understands what they are all about in life and that we can deliver.”

John Coletti, chief engineer at Ford SVT Engineering, led development of the car, which will be sold in the United States, Canada and Mexico and will be marketed as the Focus ST170 in Europe.

Scarpello and Coletti were interviewed Feb. 13 during a press event here.

SVT worked with Cosworth Technology to develop 170 hp and 145 pounds-feet of torque from Ford’s 2.0-liter dual overhead cam Zetec four-cylinder engine. The standard Focus produces 130 hp and 135 pounds-feet of torque.

One of the team’s goals was to increase low-speed torque so the engine would be more responsive off the line. To accomplish that, the engine has a dual-stage intake manifold and variable intake cam timing. This is Ford’s first application of a dual-stage intake manifold and the first application in North America of variable intake cam timing.

Component changes in the engine block include forged-steel connecting rods with 20-mm wrist pins and cast-aluminum pistons. The pistons increase compression from the Zetec’s 9.6-to-1 ratio to 10.2-to-1 in the SVT Focus.

In addition, the SVT Focus is the first front-drive Ford vehicle in North America equipped with a dual-mass flywheel.

Ford said the benefits of this flywheel include a reduction in noise and vibration in the powertrain, improved shift feel and less wear on the synchronizers.

Scarpello said the SVT Focus is aimed “at a young buyer who is very technology savvy, very information savvy. He is going to make the best decision based on what the product is, rather than being influenced by a past brand.”

Jeff Schuster, industry analysis at J.D. Power and Associates, said the car will help Ford gain credibility with the pocket rocket crowd on the West Coast.

“I think it is a step in the right direction. There is room in the tuner community for this vehicle,” Schuster said. “It is affordable for the most part, and for those who are into customizing and performance, I think it should provide competition to the Civic.”

Other standard features on the SVT Focus include a six-speed manual Getrag transaxle, four-wheel disc brakes, antilock brakes, side airbags, air conditioning, heated and power-operated outside mirrors, power windows and door locks, Continental 215/45R-17 ContiSportContact tires, and other equipment. In addition, the brakes and suspension systems have been enhanced.

Coletti said some of the enhancements made to the SVT Focus eventually could trickle down to the regular Focus line.

Ford will build 20,000 SVT/ST170 engines annually at its plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, with most of the production dedicated to Europe. Ford is aiming to produce 5,500 SVT Focus units in Mexico for the North American market this model year and expand production to about 7,500 for the 2003 model year. SVT Focus production begins in March. Engine production could be expanded to 25,000 annually if demand warrants.

Coletti said that while it was important to develop a car that is powerful and handles and stops well, the car also had to be affordable to the younger buyers it is targeting. “On a car like this, f&i is important. You’ve got to keep the price under control so they can finance it,” he said.

The base SVT Focus is $17,995, including $490 shipping. The only options are a power sunroof, $595; 290-watt, six-disc, in-dash audio system, $675; and a winter package that includes traction control, heated seats and engine block heater, $395.

As for the future, Coletti said, “You are seeing this car as our first shot. I can assure you there is already another bullet being loaded.”
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