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Ford hopes affordability of Focus ST will lure Americans

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 9:08 p.m.

It's the affordable performance car many have been waiting for since the 2010 Paris motor show when Ford revealed the Focus ST and announced it would be sold in America in 2012.

The 2013 Focus ST is a global compact car — Europeans don't get to hog the fun — with a direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed manual transmission. That is good for 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

The car went on sale Aug. 21 and has sold 750 through this week, with 73 percent of them top-trim level ST3s, a $4,400 upgrade that includes heated Recaro performance seats, said Seema Bardwaj, North America ST brand manager.

The expectation is the ST will account for about 4 percent of Focus sales in America, Bardwaj said.

The introduction of the Focus ST shows Ford's SVT (Special Vehicle Team) is still alive, having been almost dormant during the recession. The Focus ST is the third vehicle in the lineup, joining the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and Mustang Shelby GT500.

“We've never been dead,” said Tim Smith, SVT vehicle engineer. “We're on a positive slope.”

To be part of the global performance lineup, vehicles must meet criteria on everything from steering and braking to sound quality and seating.

The Focus ST checked off all the boxes with larger brakes, available Recaro seats and a redesigned intake system using an active sound symposer that pipes the engine noise into the cabin.

“It contributes to the entire performance experience,” said Smith.

The 2013 model has more power but uses 25 percent less fuel than the outgoing Focus ST, which was only sold in Europe.

To raise awareness, Ford held performance academy events in Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, New York and San Francisco, where potential customers could take timed drives. More events are planned, possibly for Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, Bardwaj said.

So far, 45 percent of ST sales are customers 16 to 35, Bardwaj said, which means it is also appealing to older buyers, especially empty-nesters. She thinks 45 percent of sales will be to those ages 35 to 55 and 10 percent will be older than that.

“Everyone knows about Mustang,” Bardwaj said. “It's nice to drive the same excitement up about Focus. We're starting to say we're playing in this space that was dominated by the imports.”

The main competitors are the Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX.

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