A teaser image of the Ford EcoSport.
A teaser image of the Ford EcoSport. Drive

Marques need to adjust to markets

BOOMING soft-roader sales are spurring Ford and Holden towards sub-compact choices.

Holden could join Ford in introducing a sub-compact soft-roader based on a tiny hatch within the next 18 months, as both companies scramble to grab a piece of the action in the booming compact SUV market.

Ford this week showed a teaser image of the vehicle, to be called EcoSport in some markets, which will be unveiled at the Delhi motor show early next month. Based on the company's hugely successful Fiesta hatch, it will be built in India and exported to numerous markets, including Australia.

Like the Volkswagen Tiguan, Skoda Yeti and Mitsubishi ASX models with which it will compete in Australia, it will be a five-seater that is likely to be offered in front- and all-wheel-drive.

It could be fitted with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo powerplant from the Ford EcoBoost engine family that already powers some Falcon and Mondeo models.

Holden, meanwhile, says it is ''interested'' in the Buick Encore, which will also be unveiled early next month by parent company General Motors at the Detroit motor show.

''We are interested in a vehicle of that type but we don't have anything to announce,'' Holden spokeswoman Emily Perry says.

The Encore is likely to be based on the Barina hatch's underpinnings and carry a similar size and shape to the Ford EcoSport.

The Encore is scheduled for launch in late 2012 but, if approved, would probably not arrive in Australia before early 2013.

Ford Australia recently reviewed its compact soft-roader strategy before announcing this month it will rush the compact Kuga SUV here to replace the ageing Escape.

''The compact SUV segment is extremely competitive,'' spokeswoman Sinead Phipps says. ''A lot of customers are moving there … so we wanted to make sure we had really competitive cars in that segment. That's why we're launching Kuga. But the vehicle that we're launching in Delhi will fit below that but will come in the future.''

The Kuga has been available for years in Europe. Ford Australia initially passed on it while it waited for the Escape's replacement, which is due to arrive in 2013. However, slowing sales of the Escape swayed it to backflip on the Kuga, which will likely only be available for 12 or 18 months in Australia before the arrival of the model that replaces it.

The latter was introduced at last January's Detroit show as the Vertrek concept and was then confirmed by Ford as the all-new Escape. But Ford Australia has decided it will carry over the Kuga name from the stop-gap car to the new model.

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