2008 Ford Focus Long Term Road Test

2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Tin Lizzie?

February 10, 2009


There is lots of talk these days about a turn to basic transportation, simple automobiles meant to serve a generation of practical consumers. But as you can see from this picture of Henry Ford with a 1921 Ford Model T, this is not exactly new thinking.

Ford just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Model T. This car first rolled off the assembly line on September 27, 1908 and didn't stop until May 26, 1927, by which time more than 15 million had been made. It changed a bit over the intervening years, but not much. As Henry Ford said, "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

Plenty of people will tell you that some kind of adventurous new thinking is required to build a modern cheap car, a cross between the NASA space program and the cheap computer club that led to the Apple personal computer. The trouble is, this sort of thinking results in a lot of effort to make things cheap rather than good, and the result is bad little transportation pods that can't pass safety or air emissions regulations. Really, the Tata Nano isn't a good model for the basic car of the future.

But why not the Ford Focus? Though this platform for Ford's world car is two generations old, the newer designs differ more in tuning than in specification. Inside this soggy, unpleasantly styled little coupe there's a Mazda 3 or a Ford Fiesta yearning to breathe free. All it needs is a little tuning. As BMW has proven over the decades, sticking with the same fundamental platform over a long period of time gives you the opportunity to develop it, and development not innovation is really the secret to affordable goodness.

Of course, we're going to be getting our version of the Ford Fiesta fairly soon, so there's not much point in pursuing this. But if I were looking to create a basic car, I'd be thinking twice about something new that's actually crummier and cheaper than something old.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Inside Line @ 16,233 miles

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