Ford’s India operations are set to get a boost with a range of all-new models coming off a new platform that is being developed for India and other emerging markets.
This new platform (Code: B563) will cater to higher segments and, according to company sources, the first model off of it will be a premium hatchback, positioned above the Figo, squarely going up against the hot-selling Hyundai i20 and Suzuki Baleno. This will be followed by a mid-size sedan, which again will sit above the Aspire and rival the Honda City, the segment king, and essentially fill the gap left by the Fiesta after it was discontinued in 2015.
“The Fiesta (B299 platform) was essentially a car made for Europe and the cost structure was too high for India and that made it unviable. The B563 platform allows us to be far more cost efficient which is the key to competitive pricing in India,” says a Ford official on condition of anonymity.
However, it will be a while before B563 reaches showrooms. Both the hatchback and sedan are not expected before 2020. Also, they are being designed to meet future emission regulations which are set to get all the more stringent beyond 2023, when the Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test cycle is expected to be implemented. This means a new range of clean petrol and, in particular, diesel engines will have to be developed by then. To be future-proof, Ford will manufacture its state-of-the-art ‘Dragon’ family of small displacement petrol engines in India to power its future compact model range. In fact, the Dragon engine family hasn’t been launched yet and the global debut of this new powerplant will be in India in the coming weeks. Ford’s diesel strategy is not clear but it’s likely that when RDE kicks in the 1.5-litre DV5 diesel may be phased out as all small diesels will struggle to meet the tougher regulations.
For long, Ford has mulled various options to fill the gap in its portfolio above the Figo and Aspire. The American carmaker faced a major setback when an all-new compact car family based on a new platform (code: B500) was inexplicably shelved. The B500 was to be an all-new, grounds-up platform and would have had to rely on huge volumes to justify its massive development costs. Hence, China was expected to be the lead market for the B500 but the volume potential even in the world’s largest car market wasn’t encouraging. “The Chinese small car market was not showing any significant signs of growth as most buyers were shifting to SUVs,” according to a source.
The B563 platform is a more viable way forward as it is not a grounds-up, all-new architecture but a modified or upgraded version of the current B562 platform underpinning the Figo and Aspire. So, will the B562 and B563 platforms co-exist? Yes. The plan is to refresh the Figo and Aspire with extensive facelifts and reposition them a segment lower to minimise overlap with the more upmarket B563 products.
Ford clearly needs new products to boost its market share in India, which is hovering at a minuscule 3 percent. The Blue Oval has a long way to go before it can make a dent in this market, but after being at the crossroads for the past year or two, the B563 is finally a direction forward.