30 September 2010

Ford says Hatchbacks Rising from the Dead

USA Today

It's easy to come up with a list of things that most Americans hate. Dandruff, mosquitoes, liverwurst, income taxes, room-temperature beer, shiny polyester, to name a few. Then there are hatchbacks, which Americans used to like, but now generally hate. But that could be changing.

Ford reports that 60% of the buyers of its new Ford Fiesta minicar are opting for the five-door hatchback. By contrast, Ford says that only 8.3% of all cars sold last year were hatchbacks. Could the stubby-car look be on its way back?

It's not just Ford. Other automakers are creeping cars without traditional trunks into their market with some success. Kia Soul for instance is hot. Or Honda Fit, the car that Ford set out to beat with Fiesta.

In Europe, hatchbacks remain popular along with station wagons, another body type that Americans have spurned. Ford says it's also going to take a chance on the next Ford Focus, and offer a hatchback version here as well.

"American car buyers have grown accustomed to the convenience of hatch body styles after years of owning SUVs and crossovers," said George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.

As Ford continues to roll out global vehicle platforms like Fiesta and the next-generation Focus, the company is investing in flexible plant capacity. The flexibility will ensure Ford is able to react quickly to changing tastes, providing a vehicle mix – hatchback or sedan, base model or fully loaded – to serve varied consumer demands around the world.

Also heartening for Ford, the automaker says buyers are opting for more options in the smallest of cars, odd given that the sour economy would usually lead buyers to take fewer options. Half of Fiesta buyers, for instance, want leather upholstery.

Fiesta is just getting started in sales after a setback involving a production slowdown at the Mexican plant where they are made due to a quality-control problem. Ford never disclosed what the issue involved.

So we'll see. Once Fiesta sales start to roar, hatches may go pop.

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