Not too long ago, the Ford Performance stable was one of the last bastions of the manual transmission. Consider: the Ford Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Focus RS, and Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs could each be had with a manual transmission – and only with a manual transmission. When the new F-150 Raptor came along for 2017 with a 10-speed automatic, ending an unbroken streak of glorious stick-shift performance machines, we accepted it because of the truck’s many other virtues. Among them: the ability to plow over rough off-road terrain at a high rate of speed as though it were a leisurely stroll to the grocery store.
Then, Ford revealed the 2019 Ford Edge ST, and followed the unveiling a few short months later with the announcement that there would be a Ford Explorer ST. Our faith was tested. That’s not even to mention that one time that Ford thought it would be a stellar idea to name its future high-performance electric crossover the “Mach 1”, after a beloved performance Mustang model from days past. The automaker later rescinded that use of the historic moniker, but we haven’t forgotten.
Now, with yesterday’s announcement that Ford will purge nearly every car from its North American lineup (save for the Mustang and crossover-like Focus Active), Ford Performance is in an even more precarious position in the region. At about the same time that Japan’s Honda Motor Co. is launching a campaign to promote proficiency with the manual transmission (per The Drive), Ford is turning its back on cars so that it can spend more time focusing on its automatic-only crossovers and SUVs – and, presumably, counting its money.
The respective futures of the Ford Fiesta ST, Focus ST, and Focus RS all seem perfectly safe in Europe. Will any of them make it to North America‘s shores, absent their more-pedestrian counterparts? The outlook isn’t good.
In all of this, the Mustang is safe. That fact, at least, provides some comfort. Better, chances are good that certain high-performance variants – the Shelbys, Performance Pack models, and perhaps even future iterations of the Boss – will stick around for the long haul as halo cars. We don’t imagine the Ford F-150 Raptor is going anywhere, either; the F-Series is the hottest automotive property in America, and the Raptor too much of a money maker to just disappear.
But by-and-large, those vehicles are aimed at buyers of a certain age, with a certain (high) level of income. The real casualties of Ford’s decision to trim its North American car lineup to nearly nothing are the young motoring enthusiasts. Go to any autocross in America today and you’re liable to see scores of youngsters running Focus STs, Fiesta STs, and the occasional Focus RS. Due to a mix of practicality and relative affordability (okay, the RS is pretty pricey), those models appeal most to the younger half of North America’s motoring population, and the percentage of stick-savvy teens and twenty-somethings who learned to drive manual on either ST is likely sky-high.
Without those cars, all that’s likely to remain of Ford Performance in North America is automatic family-hauling appliances with fancy engines, alongside a few high-performance Mustang coupes and a couple of other high-priced toys that are utterly inaccessible to a majority of America’s young motoring enthusiasts. The future of Ford Performance in North America is bleak.
And we never did get that Ford Fusion ST we’d been asking for.