“We’re not just sitting in Dearborn designing cars for ourselves. We listen to our customers.” And with that, you now know the secret to success at Ford, as revealed by Lisa Schoder, Ford Brand Manager, Focus ST. Listening. Learning. Ford even eavesdrops in chat rooms. That’s what it takes. You might not do the physical designing and building of Ford vehicles, but you sure do provide important ideas and feedback, from the initial blueprints right down to the final product that becomes a Ford vehicle.
A perfect example is the new Focus ST (the production version debuted at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show; click here for all the details), which already existed in Europe. Would other parts of the world embrace it, too? “Because the Focus ST is a specialty vehicle that’s new to North America, we do not have a ton of customer information or data,” Lisa explained. “So we get out there a lot more, talking to people to really understand them and what they want from their vehicle.” After all, you can’t have a global performance car without global input.
For North America, it meant handpicking a group of Focus enthusiasts and bringing them to the 2011 North American International Auto Show so they could check out the Focus ST concept car and talk shop with the Focus ST team, comprised of Team RS from Europe and the SVT team, based in Detroit. It was a crucial step in order to emphasize that ST wouldn’t be a trim level, but rather its own brand, Sport Technologies. In fact, only one common Focus ST model is being developed for all global markets (it’s expected to launch in 2012), and will be the first time Ford has produced one of its high-performance models for a global audience.
“We monitor Focus enthusiast spaces online in forums where we see a lot of chatter. I’m on focaljet.com and they know who I am,” Lisa said. “The Focus ST has a European heritage and enthusiasts in the U.S. have been asking for it. As we launch the vehicle here, it’s important to find the people who are super passionate about it. They are our brand evangelists.” If we were you, we’d totally make up business cards with that last part on them.
Feedback can be regarding anything from thoughts on paint colors and tires and wheels to which seats capture the performance theme best, such as with the Boss 302. “Performance enthusiasts truly want to feel connected to their car and there’s no better way than to trim and equip it to their style,” said Jim Owens, Ford Brand Manager, Mustang. “The suspension not only delivers world-class performance from a track standpoint, but we added adjustable front and rear shocks, so they can optimize it for individual racetracks. It’s all about giving customers what they want.” When Ford needs to make a decision, we depend on you to guide the process.
Now you might also better understand why the Focus ST is equipped with a high-output and efficient 240-horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost™ four-cylinder engine that’s hooked to a six-speed manual transmission with sporting ratios, as well as why it has performance brakes, a special suspension, and other spirited-driving requirements, such as the new Torque Vectoring Control system for stability and a new variable-ratio steering system. Recaro seats and noteworthy instrumentation also got the thumbs-up.
“When enthusiasts created bringbacktheSHO.com, it confirmed that we were heading in the right direction,” Lisa said about the Focus ST. “After nine years, these dedicated customers kept the passion alive. We thoroughly enjoy and benefit from this grassroots interaction, attending events or sharing emails and stories as they help us make the product, brand, and ownership experience even stronger.”