Ford is trying to do it again. Do you remember the Escort? It was suppose to be the “world car”, but apparently there was only about one part that was common between the U.S. and the European versions. But that was then and this is now. Ford is (and they are serious this time) committed to developing *one* Focus for the world (see NY Times, 1/9/2010)
The strategy is based on the premise that preferences are converging around the world and so the one world car strategy is feasible. Not only is this probably correct, it probably has been correct for quite some time – customers have always wanted a safe, inexpensive, fun to drive, fuel-efficient, stylish, reliable vehicle. Car manufacturers like Toyota and Honda understood this (though Toyota has waivered from this strategy in recent years). Mind you, the Focus is probably too much vehicle for the newly not-so-poor of India and China. But for the market that wants this size of a vehicle, it may indeed be possible to provide them with one vehicle around the world.
If the market will accept this approach, then there is a lot to be gained through operational efficiency. Ford could amortize the development and tooling costs over more vehicles. Multiple factories could produce the vehicle, thereby sharing production know how. Procurement should be simpler and scale should give bargaining power. Finally, it may even be possible to share capacity across markets, assuming the car will be built in multiple markets as well.
And it is worth noting that they will not insist on “any color, as long as it is black”. The plan is to allow some market localization of interiors in such a way that it would not significantly alter the production process. Furthermore, there will not be a single marketing campaign, but more like 5-6 themes that are designed to the particular needs of the target market.
If this strategy will work, then it probably is due to a commitment by senior management, in particular, the CEO, Alan Mulally. He came from Boeing and noted that Boeing used one door on all of their planes sold throughout the world. Why should Ford need to design doors, steering wheels, etc, for each market? Very good point. Let’s hope the strategy works for them this time.