Inside a non-descript warehouse in southeast Michigan, Roush Performance builds a steady stream of customized cars, most of which are Ford Mustangs with superchargers. Last year the company produced about 900 cars, and Roush has the capacity to build as many as 250 new vehicles each month. The company's garage houses a selection of Mustangs in colors like burnt-orange and green, many fitted with big superchargers and new wheels, and all destined for paying customers. There also is a much smaller car on display: a Ford Focus with blacked-out wheels, a big spoiler, and a supercharger.
Roush showed this concept car, tentatively called the Focus RS3, at the Special Equipment Market Association show last November. Based on a strong response there from customers and Ford dealers, the company decided to push the car into production. It will be sold as a complete pre-title car at certain Ford dealers, and customers could also purchase the individual parts from a dealer and bolt them on at home.
The concept car shown at SEMA had a supercharger to boost the 2.0-liter inline-four engine's output to around 230 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. There are unique black 19-inch wheels, Roush suspension components, enlarged brakes with red-painted calipers, and new square exhaust tips. New leather and Alcantara seats, metal sport pedals, and an aluminum shift knob dress up the interior. Outside, the Focus wears a subtle new front lip, side skirts, and rear diffuser all painted black, a new gloss-black grille insert, and prominent vinyl decals for the windshield and front fenders. The package is designed to meet the key mantra behind all Roush-upgraded vehicles: they must look cool, handle well, and go fast.
Roush expects the production car to look very similar to this concept, although the super-cool matte silver paint was only for SEMA, and both the rear spoiler and wheels will likely be revised. All of the parts on this concept are high-quality pieces that look and feel original; Roush aims for OEM-levels of fit-and-finish, and claims a warranty repair rate of less than one percent for its cars.
Despite the blower and intake manifold seen here, Roush may not supply the production Focus RS3 with a supercharger. Getting the appropriate certification to sell a pre-title car with powertrain modifications is expensive and difficult. Instead, the engine upgrade might be offered as an aftermarket kit that could be installed at home or at a Ford dealership. Roush also could add an intercooler to the supercharger, allowing more than 230 hp, but that would increase the price for the complete car.
Roush previously offered upgrade packages for the first-generation Focus, but the kits weren't a big success. Only about 300 examples of the prior Focus package were sold, says Steve Ford, Roush Performance direct of global performance vehicle sales. The company hopes for much better success with the new car for several reasons. Among them is the fact that American buyers are now more interested in small cars. Gary Jurick, Roush Performance vice president, says he even considered buying a Ford Fiesta or Focus when gas prices crested $4 a few years ago.
Although building a sporty Focus marks a big departure for a company that makes its money on the Ford Mustang, doing so might attract younger buyers to the brand. The typical Roush Mustang owner is between 40 and 60 years old; Roush hopes the Focus will attract younger enthusiasts who can't yet afford a muscle car.
The proverbial elephant in the room is the Ford Focus ST, a hot-hatch production car that the Blue Oval plans to launch by the end of this year. The ST's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is expected to produce about 250 hp, and the five-door will receive commensurate suspension and brake upgrades. Although the Roush Focus won't match the Focus ST's power outputs, the company believes the Roush car has a more subtle look that might appeal to buyers who find the wide-mouth grille and color-matched seats of the ST too garish.
Even though Ford and Roush enjoy a friendly relationship with respect to development of the Mustang, Ford hasn't granted Roush any real access or insider information on the Focus ST. Roush is essentially "working in a vacuum" and trying to build a hot hatch that won't be totally overshadowed by Ford's factory offering.
Pricing hasn't been determined for either car, though Roush says pricing and performance of its Focus RS3 should be "competitive" with the Focus ST. Both cars are scheduled go on sale by the third quarter of 2012.
When we ask how many examples of the car Roush would like to sell, Jurick just smiles and says, "As many as possible."