MOTOR MOUTH: Negative charisma ..BL.- Stephen Bayley is an author and design consultant

MOTOR MOUTH: Negative charisma ..BL.- Stephen Bayley is an author and design consultant - Why buy a Fiesta? A lot of people are wondering that very thing. The new Fiesta is - excuse me while I stifle a yawn - a perfectly fine little car. 'Perfectly fine' being the equivalent of those girls of whom it was said: 'but she has a lovely personality'. In today's ferociously competitive market, that is not good enough. And when you consider the gnawing image problems that Ford just cannot fix, it's clear that the Fiesta will struggle to provide a convincing answer.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Why buy a Fiesta? A lot of people are wondering that very thing. The new Fiesta is - excuse me while I stifle a yawn - a perfectly fine little car. 'Perfectly fine' being the equivalent of those girls of whom it was said: 'but she has a lovely personality'. In today's ferociously competitive market, that is not good enough. And when you consider the gnawing image problems that Ford just cannot fix, it's clear that the Fiesta will struggle to provide a convincing answer.

Ford inherited from its founder a tradition of building to a price. In the early and mid years of mass-production, this created an industrial discipline that Ford managers thoroughly - some would say 'ruthlessly' - professionalised. So much so that FoMoCo became a huge financial engine. This had real benefits for the consumer, who was able to buy perfectly fine cars at a modest price.

Ford made its money out of loading up these conservatively engineered vehicles with sparkly beads and mirrors: the fixed costs of making a given car are much the same for the base model or a hyper-specified top-of-the ranger, so all that GLX Ghia Executive SE stuff came through as pure, gorgeous profit.

This all worked well when Ford had a dominant market position. But that was then. Now that cars like BMW (which are built to a standard) compete in the middle market and the Peugeot-Citroen Group outsells Ford in its own back yard, with the Fiesta-sized 206 Britain's most popular hatch, the culture of the Blue Oval looks bereft. The new Fiesta is an attempt to rebuild Ford's credibility. Hence the introductory question.

People at Ford tend to subscribe to the delusion that management is an autonomous activity that can be applied to administering a nuclear power station, running a rock band or making a car. But very different skills are needed, and the only thing a successful manager of each would have in common is a passion for the product itself. So although at Ford, among the bad hair, bad suits, ties and 'hookays', you get a waffle about 'needs-based segmentation' and 'near 100% capacity utilization', you do not get sufficient attention to the car. The fact is, the new Fiesta is perfectly fine to drive, well enough made, but does not cut it in the crucial area of design. When French journalists saw the Fiesta they curled their lower lips and said 'melancholy aspect'. My wife, no car snob, said it has 'negative charisma'.

It seems odd to say this of the people who brought us the stonking Mustang, but there is something obdurate about Ford managers that prevents them seeing, still less predicting, what the consumer wants. Yes, I know those plastic wheel trims save percentages of 'real dollar costs', but they lose fortunes in the intangibles of esteem and desire. Alloys should be standard. Even better, a handsome steel wheel.

Those seat fabrics: did a nursery school teacher ask her class to draw a 'cheerful' pattern? A cent-pinching reluctance to be generous and a dry season for the imagination have made a dull car.

You can get a vivid snapshot of these same problems in another sector: because the (perfectly fine) Maverick 4wd so conspicuously lacks the toys and jewels consumers enjoy, they cannot give them away. To buy a technically inferior but seductively bejewelled and painted Nissan X-Trail you have to join a very long queue.

So will queues form for the new Fiesta? Maybe, but they will be subdued. Yes, there are new colours, but not enough of them. The interior is spacious, but so lacking in creative energy or ingenuity that it makes you feel a bit depressed. The newer Nissan Micra shows how much fun you can have with storage bins and clever execution of details. In comparison, the Fiesta interior is lazy. The imminent Renault Clio will be an astonishing shape. In comparison, the Fiesta is last year's model.

I wouldn't say the Fiesta is boring, but nor do you risk onset of hyperventilation by considering one. The best claim is that when you drive one, you feel a part of the swarm, an undemonstrative unit of urban life. For sure, Fiesta owners will not live in fear of car-jacking, but maybe consumer life should have more to offer than solid Beta performances. Talking of which, I admit the Fiesta diesel works very well indeed. The engine is supplied by Peugeot. Why buy a Fiesta when you could have a Peugeot?

Ford Fiesta from pounds 7,995 to pounds 11,195.

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