Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Why and how the 3rd-generation Ford Ka turned out to become a failed attempt to a introduce a modern spiritual successor for the Ford Model T?

With a production run that took place only in Brazil and India from 2014 to 2021, the third generation of the Ford Ka departed from its essentially urban profile to become a more versatile model aiming to the general public looking out for a simple runabout. The engine selection varied according to the markets and the production site, so while the Brazilian model available only in left-hand drive with either a 1.0L flexfuel exclusive for Brazil with a manual transmission or some 1.5L engine in a flexfuel for Brazil and only gasoline-powered for regional exports with the option for manual and automatic transmission, its Indian counterpart also had right-hand drive variants and got a broader engine selection going from 1.2L and 1.5L gassers to the 1.5L turbodiesel, yet again the 1.5L gasser would be the only one available with an optional automatic transmission. The broader engine selection reflected a much more complex market worldwide, in contrast to how the Ford Model T got away with only the 2.9L gasser (also capable to operate on ethanol and kerosene under some circumstances) from 1908 to 1927 and even outliving the Ford Model T itself until 1941 for special purposes.
Sure the harsh road conditions dictating the need for a reasonable off-road capability on the Ford Model T were at least supposed to have been improved considerably on most markets, yet there was also a trim of the Ford Ka with an off-road theme despite the lack of any real improvement to the cross-country capability over more conventional trims. A contrast with how the Ford Model T ultimately had to be closer conceptually to 4WD SUVs, because it often reached some regions before actual roads were opened, is still noteworthy even though a Ford Model T was only rear-wheel drive and the Ford Ka was front-wheel drive, both actually following what would end up as a more conservative layout according to which prevailed at the respective production run of each. On the other hand, while the Ford Model T had a much different layout of its cockpit with a manual throttle eventually being the least of its odd features, the fact that its 2-speed sequential transmission with pedals for shifting instead of a lever could be shifted without the need to control a clutch pedal may render some versions of the Ford Ka comparably less novice-friendly once the manual transmission is specified, and that was the only one available in Europe where the 1.2L gasser was the only engine available and so the automatic transmission had never been offered.
Eventually the trim with an off-road theme could've been an excuse to sell the Ford Ka in a more favorable condition as if it would qualify to the same "light truck" loophole that benefits SUVs, had Ford ever bothered to make it comply with NHTSA and DOT regulations which actually seemed to be less of a challenge than anybody would suppose, as the 3rd generation of the Ford Ka shared pretty much the same underpinnings with other models more appealing to both the European and North American markets, even though a concept of manufacturability quite similar to the one applied to the Ford Model T dictated a simpler approach to most of the features such as design and finishings. Maybe even more serious than the structural integrity and crashworthyness, other aspect which could make it less appealing for Ford to sell the Ka within the United States was the FMVSS 108 regarding the lighting system, as it requires symmetrical headlights for any motor vehicle to fully comply, even though in one way or another Mexico where it was sourced from India tends to follow much of the American regulations on vehicles made locally (as Mexico ended up becoming one of the most important production and export hubs for the motor industry, highlighting the location near the United States, Mexico also having two coastlines, the high value added to trucks and SUVs which are the vehicles usually exported from Mexico, and the trade agreements giving Mexican vehicles a much more competitive pricing abroad), yet more lenient when it comes to imported vehicles as part of some trade agreements signed by Mexico. As there would be such low economics of scale for very specific US-spec headlights, to a model in a segment with a rather small sales volume within the United States, it's quite easy to understand why Ford never even bothered to try it...
An internal competition between the Ford Ka and the EcoSport could seem too risky for the off-road themed version named Ka Trail in Brazil prior to the facelift, or Ka Freestyle after such facelift in order to get alligned with the Ford Freestyle name used in India, where the regular Ka was named Ford Figo, while in Europe the Ka+ name was applied to the hatchback and the off-road themed trim became the Ka+ Active. While both the Ka and the EcoSport relied on pretty much the same underpinnings, the perception of a higher value added tended quite predictably to favor much more the EcoSport, not only in developed markets such as Western Europe or the United States and Canada, or Japan where versions sourced from India went as far as having a slightly narrower bodyshell in order to keep within the compact car class and save on taxation, all while having only a turbocharged 1.0L and a naturally-aspirated 1.5L gasoline-powered engines for the same purpose of lower taxation. Besides being made alongside the Ka/Figo in Brazil and India, the EcoSport was also made in China, Thailand, Vietnam and at a later stage also in Romania where production of the model is already scheduled to be phased out in 2023, even though Ford developed a quite effective replacement to the EcoSport meant for sale only in Europe and Australia, concentrating strictly on larger models within the SUV class in other regions such as Latin America and China.
The production hub of the Euro-spec models of the EcoSport from India to Romania may also lead to a reflection regarding a strategy applied by Renault expanding its Romanian budget-oriented companion brand Dacia to the mainstream Western European markets, which Ford could've tried with the Ka, and the sedan bodystyle which in Brazil became named Ka+ and in India had a shorter trunk in order to keep total lenght around 4-metre for a lower taxation and was named Ford Figo Aspire. Sure an absence from China and other markets in Asia where a budget model could boost the sales volume of Ford cars, even if it would be quite difficult to keep up to competition from Toyota or its companion brands Daihatsu still taken very seriously in Indonesia or Perodua in Malaysia, also being worth to mention Indonesia as a quite large manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia for the motor industry even though it's to a smaller extent than Thailand. Considering taxation which is often displacement-biased on most Southeast Asian countries, eventually the same engine selection of the Brazilian Ford Ka and Ka+ would be better suited to match regional criteria, while the Brazilian longer bodyshell of the Ka+ which in India was only made for export could be replaced by the same shorter one from the Figo Aspire as it would be easier to maneuver and to find a parking spot in some of those huge cities in the ASEAN region such as Jakarta, Manila or Kuala Lumpur for instance.
While it could be seen as quite pathetic by an American redneck, or too unsophisticated by Western European modern standards, Ford really missed some opportunities to at least keep one foothold within the "people's car" segment which led to its former leadership of so much of the global car market if the Ford Ka had a chance in the context of the failed One Ford policy. Maybe not to the same iconic extent of the Ford Model T, yet still keeping up to its heritage by providing at least one model effectively suitable to a much broader worldwide market in the middle of all those expensive trucks and SUVs which became a status symbol more than a tool to improve people's lives like the Ford Model T ended up to become back in the day. Sure it might just seem easier to shoehorn a small SUV at each household, with a larger profit margin even though the underpinnings are basically the same of a basic runabout, but Ford chose to lose its focus (no pun intended) from being a world-class automaker by letting go from its own history and what had turned it into one of the most important automakers in the whole world, and neglecting what could've been the last chance to make amends with its own past.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

What makes the Honda Cub-type motorcycles so successful worldwide?

Among the best-selling motorcycles, the Honda Cub in its many different iterations and variants is one of the easiest examples to be remembered. Successful in so many countries with differences pertaining to the economical and social conditions, even in Brazil derivatives such as the Honda C100 Dream can be found. There are good reasons for the Honda Cub and its derivatives to be so appreciated worldwide.

The underbone frame for instance, made it attractive for East Asian and Southeast Asian women, as it was much easier for them to ride it while wearing traditional attires which often include long skirts. Not to the same extent of modern scooters with an usually flat floor, yet easier than in a regular motorcycle with its conventional frame. For many women, in Western countries too, the Honda Cub turned out to be their first experience with motorcycles.

With an automatic clutch, novice riders in general tended to be more at ease, and it also became favored by motorcycle couriers in Japan and even in other countries as it allowed the rider to eventually handle some materials with the vehicle still moving. It was also possible to keep the 1st gear engaged with the motorcycle stopped during a delivery, so the courier would be able to depart faster to the next stop. Odd enough, in Brazil the C100 Dream and its replacemens were never favored by motorcycle couriers, yet a similar engine with a manual clutch is now used in a bare-bones motorcycle which is now quite usual among motorcycle couriers due to its (competitively) low price.

With bigger wheels than a scooter, the Honda Cub also tended to cope better with rugged terrain, which makes it an easy choice in 3rd-world countries, both in urban areas and rural regions. Among the many derivatives of the Honda Cub, there are trail models too, which are actually more favored by recreative riders than those who use a small motorcycle for daily commuting. Easy to ride, fuel-efficient and able to cope with some of the harshest environmental conditions, no wonder the Cub is a best-seller.


Friday, September 01, 2023

Why would a soft-top convertible car be most likely out of question for a daily-driver?

It's undeniable that a convertible car might be cool and have some extra fun factor, and the distinctively classic look of a canvas soft top made it once again become more widespread in convertibles instead of a retractible metal top. Even though some people can actually make good use of one as a daily-driver, it may not be the same for everyone, and some aspects render a convertible car out of question, such as a security concern as a soft top may be easier for vandals and burglars to damage. Not to mention the fire hazard which used to be more of an issue when some random a**holes used to throw lit cigarette butts while the vehicle was stopped at a traffic light, before fire-retarding materials became more usual, and smoking inside urban transit buses became outlawed. I have already seen some unruly teens littering on convertible cars with the top down when I lived in Florianópolis, and not only it's disrespectful but also may pose a safety threat in case some rubbish around the pedals may affect their proper function. Other aspect more specific to Brazil is the unsuitability to add armor legally, which may be deemed desirable by most luxury car owners, and nowadays there is absolutely no convertible version of any entry-level car in Brazil. It may sound dumb to even think about armoring a convertible car, but it's not unheard of, because it's Brazil so expect the unexpected... And even for a normal usage, the inherently lesser torsion rigidity of a convertible would be a greater matter of concern than for a regular hardtop equivalent, so it may render a convertible better suited for occasional usage, preferably in places with the pavement in a better condition than most places in Brazil where speedbumps and potholes are almost everywhere.