Since then I’ve religiously stuck to a few key resolutions, one of which this year will be to change my car (it’s a sort of self improvement). Ford will also be hoping your resolution will be to ditch your used Ford Ka or alternative and buy a new one when it launches in January. There is quite a major problem that Ford face however and I liken it to the rock band The Darkness.
For those unfamiliar with The Darkness they were formed in the early nineties by brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins. Recruiting two old friends on bass and drums respectively, The Darkness wrote songs that harked back to the glam metal and classic rock of Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, AC/DC and Queen. In a world where hip hop, R ‘n’ B and shiny pop were ruling the airwaves, The Darkness in their spandex and with their cheesy rock were destined to be a massive failure. Yet somehow, amazingly, they weren’t.
In 2003 they burst onto an unsuspecting public and guitar music was reborn. Their debut album went to number one for four weeks in the UK and sold 1.5 million copies. They toured the world with superstars like Metallica, won two Brit Awards in 2004, had a massive Christmas single and were on every form of media constantly. Yet when it came to following up this unexpected success, they were unable to do so. Their bassist quit, singer Justin went into rehab and their second album flopped, resulting in the record company cancelling their contract.
Ford are in the same boat with the Ka (albeit a less musical one). Part of Ford’s ‘New Edge’ design philosophy in 1996, the Ka was so futuristically styled when it launched that it had the potential to send any prospective customers running away screaming. I was on the verge of calling NASA the first time I saw one. Even today the old car looks fresh so it’s no wonder that Ford have let the original Ka design run for 13 years.
Yet people didn’t run away – they loved it. With a combination of styling that was ahead of its time but appreciated, good build quality, nippy 1.3 litre engine and neat and tidy handling – particularly around town, the Ka sold in droves. Crucially it attracted young women to the Ford brand and the Ka was so small they could carry it around it their handbags. With the Ka becoming every bit a style icon as good little car, Ford developed a brand loyalty with its Ka owners that boosted sales across its range.
Now you see the size of the new Ka’s task. A used Ford Ka is ridiculously cheap and on average will be £4,000 cheaper (for a two year old model) than the new derivative. The new car is also a Fiat 500 and Panda in drag (well all the unpinnings are the same) but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good. Despite it being the ugly step-sister of the Italian firm the Ka is streets ahead when it comes to the driving experience. The Ford PR guff said the new Ka had “the most exciting driving dynamics of any small car” and this is the case.
To encourage buyers you can also choose from three ‘personalisation packs’ for your new car: Digital Art, Grand Prix and Tattoo. What? Well basically each pack contains exterior graphics, matching coloured seat fabric colours, steering wheel and floor mats. It’s clear that Ford is aiming to retain its young female customer base which considering the number of fans of it, isn’t surprising.
The new Ka then, is Ford’s second difficult second album and you may be better sticking with their original material. It’s ironic that despite the new car being a good one, the success of its elder means that it may very well be judged a failure. Time and how well it fits inside a handbag will tell.