What is the most popular vehicle in the world?
Americans might say a Ford F Series pickup, since it’s the perpetual biggest seller in the U.S. Others, recognizing their international appeal, might say it’s a Toyota Camry or Honda Civic.
It’s not. The most popular model in the world for at least second year running is the Ford Focus. More than a million were sold last year, up from 879,914 in 2011, says Ford Motor, citing data from research service R.L. Polk.
Next, also for the second year, is one of the obvious candidates, the Corolla.
Only then comes Ford F Series, and it’s lucky to be there, considering it moved up several places on the list from 2012 to 2011.
The only vehilce on the list that would be completely unknown to most Americans is a Chinese family hauler, the Wuling Zhiguang sold in China, in fourth place. Overall, the list is dominated by small sedans.
Others in the Top 10 — the Camry, Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and Chevrolet Cruze, to name a few — underscore how global the auto industry has become.
The 2012 list top 10 with global registrations:
1 Ford Focus……. 1,020,410
2 Toyota Corolla.. 872,774
3 Ford F-Series,… 785,630
4 Wuling Zhiguang 768,870
5 Toyota Camry….. 729,793
6 Ford Fiesta……… 723,130
7 VW Golf …………..699,148
8 Chevrolet Cruze ….661,325
9 Honda Civic …….651,159
10 Honda CR-V…… 624,982
The figures validate Ford’s “One Ford” global strategy of designing, engineering, building, marketing and selling vehicles in all markets.
The strategy is embossed on wallet-size cards that executives carry. CEO Alan Mulally has repeated it like a mantra since he joined the company in 2006. Mulally found a composite of regional products and business practices, then spent years changing Ford so a compact car like Focus is built the same way at a plant anywhere in the world in order to save money from economies of scale.
“Focus and Fiesta (No. 6 on the list) represent the culmination of our One Ford global product strategy,” said Ford marketing chief Jim Farley.
A car known by a single name anywhere in the world reduces cost and can boost brand equity.
“As companies build more vehicles locally, around the world, they are using a global name. Even in countries like China they are not changing model names as much,” said Haig Stoddard, industry analyst with WardsAuto.
Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Consulting, said a single name helps in emerging markets.
“With the impact of the Internet and name awareness, there are definitely economies of scale and the ability to build brand equity around the world,” Robinet said. “When you pick a name that is universally accepted, like Focus or Corolla or Fiesta or Beetle, it reduces marketing costs.” Ford may be ahead of some of its peers, but other carmakers are pursuing the strategy.
Chevrolet Cruze, for example, bears the same name everywhere but Australia where General Motors sells under the Holden brand, said GM spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin.
There is a compact Opel Astra sold in Europe and the Vauxhall Astra in the U.K., but it is a different vehicle, although close in size to the Cruze. Chevrolet also sells the Cruze in Europe, Martin said. Chrysler revived the Cherokee name for a new generation of what was the Jeep Liberty, because a version of the small SUV is sold as a Cherokee in other parts of the world.
Even Ford has naming discrepancies to address. The Ford Escape is sold as the Kuga in Europe; the Fusion is sold as the Mondeo. But executives are considering single names in the future and which names should prevail if they make the change.
Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said the Focus is particularly strong in the U.S. and China. Ford sold almost 246,000 in the U.S. last year, up 40%.
China now accounts for one in four Focus sales. In China, consumers can buy a more affordable “classic” or previous-generation Focus or the more expensive current model.
Ford invested $490 million in Chongqing to produce the current Focus. Last year in China, Focus sales rose 51%, mostly in the second half of the year, Merkle said.
It ranked as the best-selling passenger car in China, Farley said.
“With additional manufacturing capacity added last year, we now have a tremendous opportunity to further strengthen our global small-car sales in 2013,” Farley said.