Ford Motor has a new sport-tuned sub-brand called ST (for Sport Technologies), and it is supporting the first iteration -- the Focus ST -- with a grassroots promotional effort.
The program has an auto show focus that gives people a chance to test drive the hatchback virtually, before it goes on sale, and also dangles the winning driver of a virtual time trial to the ESPN Summer X Games -- not to compete, but to meet and greet.
Ford's introduction of ST is part of the company's global strategy, called One Ford, wherein vehicles like the Fiesta -- which started in Europe -- are built not (in most cases) solely for specific markets, but for global distribution.
Octavio Navarro, Ford car communications manager, says ST was dreamed up by a joint task force comprising members of the U.S. market SVT (Special Vehicle Team) group, which makes mega high-performance versions of Mustang and F-150 pickups called Raptor, and the European-market Ford TeamRS, which makes performance Fiestas, Focuses and Rally cars across the pond (Australia has its own performance team, Ford FPV).
"These two performance groups grew up separately, so there was no global consistency," says Navarro, adding that ST won't replace SVT in the states. "If you look at the hierarchy, SVT is very high-performance vehicles. The ST moniker is global performance brand with higher horsepower and tuning, but not to the level of SVT," he says. The automaker showed a Fiesta ST concept at last week’s Chicago Auto show, along with the Focus ST. "I think eventually the idea will be to expand to other vehicles." Ford first unveiled the 250-hp 2012 Focus ST hatch at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show.
The Focus ST grassroots program, launched at the Chicago Auto Show, puts driving simulators in auto shows nationwide along with Ford's other auto-show display assets. The race simulator gives the person with the fastest lap time various awards, including the invite to the ESPN Summer X Games for a meet-and-greet with drivers of Ford’s Octane Academy. Additional prizes will also be awarded to top times on a regional basis.
Lisa Schoder, Focus ST Marketing manager, says that the game builds awareness for the ST brand among the target driver: people who like digital games. “The Focus ST simulator is tuned with the specs from the actual car, so people can get a true feel for the dynamics of ST performance.”
The results of the competition will be maintained on the Focus Facebook page, where a leaderboard will be posted from each show the challenge visits. The automaker says that when the challenge wraps in May, the best times from each show will be entered into an overall sweepstakes to determine the grand prize winner. The simulator itself is meant to mimic the experience of driving the Focus ST, as it has the car's seats, steering wheel, pedals, visual display mirroring the driving experience, and a hydraulic system meant to reproduce a performance driving experience.