The success of the Focus, which beat the Toyota Corolla for world honors and is improving in the U.S., is at the core of Ford's big comeback under CEO Alan Mulally.
When the former Boeing Co. executive arrived at Ford in 2006, the company was building different cars of the same size around the world. Indeed, the American Focus and the European Focus were different cars, though called the same name. Dumb, thought Mulally.
Mulally quickly moved the company to build the Focus, as well as the Fusion mid-sized sedan, the same around the world as a way to lower costs and improve quality (the fewer changes the less things that can go wrong).
In the U.S., from 1999 through 2010, Ford sold an updated version of the same Focus it launched at the end of the 1990s, while Ford of Europe re-tooled the car to a much better version. The fact that the U.S. didn't get the "good, new" Focus rankled dealers and the auto press, and came to hurt the car's reputation.
The all new Focus that is in Ford dealerships today was developed in Europe and is now built in five countries -- the U.S., China, Germany, Russia and Thailand. It is sold in 120 markets worldwide.
Despite economic slowdowns in Europe and China, the global auto industry set a record in 2012 with more than 80 million new vehicles sold worldwide, driving demand for the Focus. The U.S. is part of the surge. Sales topped 14.5 million in the U.S., compared with just 10.4 million as recently as 2009.
The Focus is popular abroad because it comes in several versions including sedan, coupe and hatchback. It is fuel efficient, reliable and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. In Europe, the Focus hatchback is a family car for many households with two children. Gasoline is much more expensive in Europe than the U.S., and so families tend to stay with smaller fuel efficient cars rather than getting an SUV.
In the U.S., the Focus is offered as a sedan, a hatchback five-door and an electric-car.
After Focus, which sold about one million across the globe, the Corolla was the most popular with 872,774. Ford's F-Series pickup line was the No. 3 nameplate, its Fiesta subcompact was No. 6, and General Motors Co. (GM)'s Chevrolet Cruze was No. 8, ahead of Honda Motor Co.'s Civic.
Toyota disputes Polk's findings, citing 1.16 million in sales for Corolla. The technicality is that Toyota sells the Corolla in some markets as the Corolla Axio and Corolla Altis, and Polk counts those as separate models.
"Focus and Fiesta represent the best of our One Ford plan," said Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president, Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln in an interview with AOL Autos earlier this year. "In just three years, Ford has transformed our global small car lineup and started winning over customers worldwide with vehicles that are not only fun-to-drive but also fuel-efficient – largely thanks to our award-winning Eco-Boost engines."