The Euros are coming, the Euros are coming.

No, we’re not talking about the rather bland-looking European currency that, in recent years, has replaced the French franc, the Italian lira and the German mark, etc. -- which many longtime European travelers will tell you were a lot more interesting and distinctive than the homogenous Euro. But that’s another conversation.

No, we’re talking about the European car models that Ford has been touting for the last couple of years – the smaller, more fuel-efficient models that companies have been selling in Europe for the last several years -- that are being “transported” to the U.S. market.
  • Image Credit: Ford

Ford Is Coming Strong

Ford's European nameplates have actually already started arriving in America – and will continue to hit these shores over the next couple of years. But they aren’t exactly the same vehicles that have been motoring along roads in London, Paris, Berlin, Florence and Amsterdam.

Instead, they’re been re-designed, with input from both U.S. and European engineers, so that the re-designed versions that are hitting the U.S. market will be the same ones that will go on sale in Europe. The “European invasion” actually began late in 2009, when the Ford Transit Connect van debuted – and promptly was named the North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit auto show in January.

Ford Going Small

Following the Connect will be the Ford Fiesta, which is slated for a summer launch. Then will come the next generation of the Focus, slated for an early-2011 rollout, and which will be a re-design of the European-version of the Focus that has become a popular choice across the pond.

Ford's Focus Will Be All-New, Too

“We strongly believe, and our research bears this out, that the compacts and sub-compacts are the segments that will continue to show the most growth, and will become more and more popular among buyers,” says Mark Schirmer, Ford’s global product communications manager.

“In 2004, these segments represented just 14 percent of the market, but by 2009, they accounted for 22 percent of vehicles sold,” says Schirmer. “And that increase wasn’t just driven by high gas prices in ’07 and ’08 -- because prices dropped in November of ’08. Presently, half of the cars sold around the world are compacts or sub-compacts.”

GM's Euro Strategy Is Engineering Focused

General Motors also has plenty of smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles either on the road now or coming down the pipeline, including the Chevy Cruze, the Chevy Cobalt, the Chevy Malibu and the Chevy Volt plug-in vehicle (many of which employ engineering from GM-owned Opel, which specializes in compact cars and fuel-efficient engines). And even though GM has shed the Saturn and Pontiac nameplates, both of those brands introduced several smaller, fuel-sipping cars in the last couple of years that are still on the road -- and still going strong.

But historically, GM has employed a slightly different philosophy and structure than Ford’s when it came to designing and selling vehicles in different parts of the world. “GM operates under a global engineering and manufacturing structure, so there are a few GM vehicles that we sell in the U.S that are very similar to vehicles we sell overseas,” says GM spokesman Randal Fox -- except they have different names.

For example, in the past, GM sold the (now-discontinued) Saturn VUE in the US, but the same vehicle was sold as the Opel Antara in Europe.

Ford Leading The Way

So, that leaves Ford as the American carmaker that is “importing” the most Euro-centric styles and philosophies in the most immediate, short-term fashion. . “In the past, Ford was less of a global company -- the various divisions tended to operate more regionally, partly due to labor agreements, and the fact that demand for different vehicles fluctuated from continent to continent,” says Schirmer. “Like, there was never much demand for huge SUVs in Europe, for example. “Certainly, after that big gas-price spike in ’08 and ‘09, there was some uncertainty about the future of fuel prices, and that still remains -- no one knows when and if they will spike again, or how high. And that uncertainty does play a role in people wanting smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, to hedge their bets.”

European Cars Required Modifications for US Roads, Laws

And with recent trends being what they were -- and are -- Ford looked to its European division, because that division had more experience building small, fuel-efficient cars than the North American division -- mostly European gas prices were much higher, for much longer, than they were in the U.S.

Some changes had to be made to the previous Euro editions of these models when they were re-designed to be sold here in the U.S. For starters, the Euro editions had to be re-engineered to meet U.S. crash-test standards, which are different than in Europe.

“We also had to take into account durability and road conditions -- European roads tend to be less torturous than our roads here in the U.S., “ says Schirmer. “So the wheels and tires and suspension had to be modified to account for that.
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