Photo: Alex Davies
Last week, we test drove the 2013 Ford Fiesta 1.0-Liter and had a great time. During the presentation, Ford noted a variety of interesting facts and statistics, but only one really surprised us:An automatic transmission will not be available on the Fiesta 1.0-Liter.
In the American market, manuals are a niche product. In 2011, only 3.9 per cent of cars sold in the US had stick shifts, Edmunds found.
64 per cent of 2012 models do not even offer a manual option. That includes the Ferrari 458 Spider, a car made for drivers obsessed with performance.
At first glance, Ford’s manual-only move seems like folly. But it might just work. Here’s why:
Ford Is Selling Automatics, Too
The Fiesta is an important product for Ford, one it hopes will take a big share of the subcompact segment. The 1.0-liter is only one version; the 1.6-liter will come as both a manual and an automatic. “We haven’t gone completely crazy,” a Ford rep said.
The automaker would not provide sales projections for the 1.0-liter, but a representative told us, “we will build as many as we can sell.” It is a safe bet it will produce a conservative number, so it won’t get killed if they don’t sell.
It Fits The Marketing Plan
Presenting the 1.0-liter, Ford hammered on two themes: performance and fuel economy. While it can be annoying in traffic, driving a stick shift is a lot of fun on winding and hilly roads. That’s why Ford sent us through the canyons around Los Angeles for a test run. The manual transmission offers more control over the car, and demands participation: Driving becomes more of a sport and less of an everyday task.
Manual transmissions are also more fuel-efficient (though as car technology advances, they are losing their edge). Ford is working not only to meet high fuel economy standards, but to win over customers with high MPG numbers. There’s no hybrid Fiesta, but Ford says the upcoming 1.0-liter will be the most efficient non-hybrid for sale in North America.
Americans Are Rediscovering Manuals
As noted, only 3.9 per cent of cars sold in the US last year had manual transmissions. But through July of 2012, that number nearly doubled, jumping to 7 per cent. The long-term trend toward automatics will not reverse in the long run, but for the moment, this shift offers Ford an opportunity jump in and sell some Fiestas.
Fiesta Buyers Want To Drive Stick
To justify the decision, Ford told us that about one out of every four Fiesta buyers opt for manual transmissions. If that number holds in 2013, similar shoppers can gobble up the 1.0-litres, while automatic drivers stick to the 1.6-liter.
Ford is already selling the 1.0-liter abroad (in fact, we drove European spec Fiestas in Los Angeles). Building an automatic version of the 1.0-liter engine requires a lot of work, and a lot of money. If Ford can find a market to buy the manuals it has already developed, it will save the extra costs.
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