Not Robert Cumberford

viacelli design Logo

A failed car designer tries to make sense of a flat design world.

How Ford’s getting it right with the Fiesta launch.

Ok, I’ve been critical in this blog and on Twitter for a while now about what I perceive as Ford’s missed opportunity with the Fiesta Movement. I’ve said that they dragged their feet too long with the US-spec car and lost their momentum. I’ve said they put too much chrome on the US-spec car (I stand behind that), and I’ve said that what seemed like a brilliant and bold new-media marketing campaign might wither and die before the car had a chance to make it to market. A few things that have happened this week are starting to change my mind.

The first thing, and possibly most exciting, is that I received a call from the agency running Ford’s Fiesta Movement Part Deux telling me that my wife and I are in the running for it. I had breathlessly submitted an application about a month ago and promptly forgotten about it as everyone said that Ford was looking for younger “Agents”, so two thirty-something professionals who are about to have a baby wouldn’t really have a chance. I disagreed, and apparently so did the folks running the show, who think it could be cool. I hope so. I can only tell them that it would be an incredible opportunity to show the world that a tiny (by American standards) hatchback can make a great urban family car. I’ve been yelling it from the rooftops for years, so this would be my chance to walk the walk. The fact that both my wife and I are in design and marketing and that’s the crux of this “Movement” just adds to the excitement. Philly’s ad campaign for the Fiesta, designed by me for those people I think would love the car? Yes sir, that would be sweeter than pie.

The second thing is much less personally relevant, but something that I consider quite interesting. Amateur rally driver and DC shoes co-founder Ken “don’t call me Corky” Block and his flat-billed Monster Energy hat will be the first American ever to drive in the World Rally Championship next year, in, you guessed it, a Ford. Although he won’t won’t be driving a Fiesta in WRC (the Euro-spec Focus fills that role), he will be driving one in the X-games and, one can assume, in his next mega-viral, super-linktastic gymkhana video on YouTube (if you haven’t seen the first one, stop here, go to this link, and enjoy). Even though this development is a small one in the scheme of launching a new car, it shows me that someone at Ford might just “get” the position of the Fiesta after all. A cool hatchback that’s fun to drive and appeals to a niche segment of young urban drivers.

These two pieces of news give me hope for Ford’s small car. It might not be doomed by its own marketing, as has happened so many times before with small American cars (in a wonderfully self-fulfilling way for the manufacturers). If I get my hands on one for the next stage in the Fiesta Movement, well, I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure people know and understand, why I want this car so much and what I’ve been clamoring about for so long.

All I need now is that call back telling me we’re in. Don’t let me down Ford. I’ve been yelling for years about how the US needs good, fun, hatchbacks, please give me the forum and the megaphone to speak to a larger audience.

Is Ford about to drop the ball on Fiesta Movement?

I’ve been following Ford’s Fiesta Movement from the beginning. In fact, not only did I consider putting my name in the hat to participate, I was already directly or indirectly following several of the final 100 chosen via blogs or Twitter. For me, Fiesta Movement was not about raising awareness of the car, but rather a test of whether a fun-to-drive European hatchback could really become cool in the US — something automakers have been telling us for years was impossible and that a vocal minority have been saying was not only possible, but already a reality.

I have been at the front of that vocal minority for years. Upon returning home to the US after years lived in Europe in the ’90s, I couldn’t believe that the US car market had such a horrible void at its bottom end. The small, cheap and clever cars that Europe adores were simply missing over here, and the argument seemed to be that automakers couldn’t make enough profit from them and that, quite frankly, nobody wanted them anyway. I did, and still do, and I know others do too. I’ve walked the walk too, owning both a VW Golf and a MINI Cooper in the past decade. And now I’m looking to buy a new car.

The Fiesta instantly jumped to the top of my list based on the positive reviews that it’s received in Europe and in recent tests on US websites. I want a 5-door hatch that is small, fun to drive, and, yes, looks cool (I’m still a designer, you know). And I’m looking to spend around $15K on it. And here is where Ford’s problems start. They have been very vague about everything to do with the US Fiesta. When will it arrive? How much will it cost? Will they put some horrible higher-powered but inefficient and unfun engine in it or maintain the Euro spec? Will they tweak the styling for “American taste” (meaning, the complete lack of taste, if the current Focus is any indicator). We just don’t know. And there is real-world competition for it, on the ground, in the US, right now.

The Honda Fit has been a huge success since it arrived a few years ago if my neighborhood in Philadelphia is any indication. It’s small, clever and a pretty decent drive. It’s almost the exact same size as the Fiesta but vastly more useful. Its got those flippy seats and a flappy-paddle gearbox and the new model even looks pretty good. A Euro-spec Fiesta bests it in driving pleasure, I hear. The Fiesta also looks better — if they keep it the way it is. And maybe it will be cheaper? Yeah, we don’t know that either. Ford’s been extremely tight-lipped on the subject. Which leads me to one conclusion: it doesn’t matter how much goodwill and interest has been generated by Fiesta Movement if buyers can’t put numbers and dates and specs on their shopping list.

I probably won’t be buying one. In a buyer’s market, a new Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube or even a VW Rabbit or Mazda 3 is potentially competitive. In the current used market, the sky’s the limit. If the Fiesta’s arrival is imminent, I might wait, but a recent Ford press release says “More than nine months before the 2011 Ford Fiesta goes on sale in North America”. Nine months? How will they keep up the excitement for that long? Who’s going to wait nine months in the small-car space for a mysterious car that you can’t compare, spec or price? I won’t, and I blame Ford. Hopefully this won’t doom the Fiesta upon its arrival, but with Mazda readying the 2 and Fiat importing the 500, I think Ford is wasting its opportunity to get on buyers’ shopping lists.

But if you want to do a second round of Fiesta Movement, give me a call. If the car’s as good as you say it is, having it sit in my driveway next to a Fit should be the perfect way to show off everything that’s good about it.