Why the Ford Fiesta has been discontinued | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

03rd November 2022
Gary Axon

Driving home last week, I popped the radio on to catch with the latest news headlines. Only half listening to the latest political shenanigans and Putin atrocities in Ukraine, my ears pricked up when Radio 4 mentioned as one of its main news items that Ford was rumoured to be stopping production of its popular Fiesta earlier than originally planned. Although Ford wouldn’t confirm or deny this rumour at the time, the following day it did eventually confirm that after a long, and very successful, production run of more than 47 years, the best-selling Ford Fiesta would finally be laid to rest – and take a very well-earned siesta – in June 2023.


Ford is ending production of its Fiesta B-segment ‘supermini’ earlier than planned as the Blue Oval moves more rapidly to electrify its entire model range of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.

Unlike the majority of us Brits (plus millions of our Continental cousins) I have never actually had a direct link with the baby Ford. Sure, I’ve driven countless examples of each generation of the model over the years, but I have never actually owned one myself, nor have had any close friends or family members with a Fiesta. Thus, I have no real emotion about its early parting, despite it becoming ultimately the best-selling car in British history and ubiquitous on our roads in the UK. Since its British launch in February 1977 (some months after its Autumn 1976 debut in most LHD European markets) the Fiesta has always just been there, a familiar part of our street furniture, like pedestrian crossings and street lamps, blending into the scenery and causing no offence, whilst doing everything quite well, if rarely outstanding, in typical Ford fashion.  

Incidentally, Fiesta has become the longest-serving model name plate for Ford in Europe, lasting almost 50 years by the time it finishes next year. Yet the Fiesta name wasn’t chosen until the eleventh hour, the new Ford was originally set to be called Bravo, one of around two dozen names that were being considered for the model. Other legendary European Ford names such as the popular Cortina name only lasted for 20 years and Escort 30 years (43 years if you include the short-lived 1955 103E Prefect-based estate car). The German Ford Taunus name, meanwhile, was used for 43 years, from 1939-82. In the USA of course, Ford’s cult Mustang label still lives, and thrives (via the all-electric Mustang Mach E), having first been seen and in constant use since 1964.


In my view the most endearing and memorable of all of the seven generations (by Ford’s reckoning) of Ford Fiesta models is the original 1976/77 Mark I. First conceived way back in 1971 under the internal Ford codename of ‘Project Bobcat,’ at a time when ‘front-wheel-drive, small hatchbacks ‘superminis’ such as the pioneering Fiat 127 were beginning to dominate the European new car market. Initially Ford’s American management were resistant to the idea of introducing a new small family hatch; the Corporate mantra in Dearborn at the time being “small cars equal small profit.” Hence, Ford’s entry into this rapidly expanding new vehicle segment was tackled by its trusty, but dated, rear-drive Escort, a range of family saloons and estates that looked decidedly old fashioned against the latest up-start front-drive hatchbacks being launched into Europe, such as the Renault 5, Peugeot 104, Honda Civic, and so on.

Ford took much inspiration from the Fiat 127, and even used its chassis as the base for many of its Project Bobcat full-size styling prototypes, built for use in secret customer clinics, etc., including the 127’s wheels and Fiat-stamped chrome hubcaps. The first Fiesta’s pleasing contemporary two-box design was largely the work the gifted ex-Pininfarina and Ghia stylist Tom Tjaarda – also the designer of the iconic De Tomaso Pantera supercar, for example.


Ford has built 22 million Fiestas since its original 1976 launch, the model being its best-selling car in Europe and Britain for many years. Since its UK introduction 46 years ago, almost five million examples have been sold here and for 12 consecutive years, it was this country’s best-selling new (and used) car. Its early demise comes as car makers increasingly concentrate on larger crossover and SUV models, such as Ford’s slightly pointless Puma and larger Kuga, which are growing in popularity and provide better profits than compact models.

After topping the registrations list of most for more than a decade, sales of the Fiesta have been declining in recent years, a problem exacerbated by supply shortages that saw Ford temporarily pause orders for the model earlier this year. For the first time since its 1977 launch, the Fiesta failed to make the British list of top ten best-sellers in 2021. It doesn’t feature in the year-to-date list for 2022, either, while the larger Puma and Kuga SUV are comfortably placed in third and seventh position respectively. The situation is similar in mainland Europe, with the Puma outperforming the Fiesta significantly over the past 18 months.

As a victim of the crumbling B-segment, and the internal competition of the small Puma SUV, the Fiesta will not be directly replaced, although I don’t see any reason why the name badge could not be continued on a future electric model.  While 459,006 Ford Fiestas were sold in Europe in 2019, sales are reported to have decreased since then, down to below 86,385 examples in 2021 (whilst the Puma gained 134,431 European buyers last year). With the on-going shortage of semiconductors and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine, the situation has sadly not improved this year. On the contrary, since Fiesta production had to be interrupted this summer (as was also the case for the larger Focus which is set for the chop by 2024).


One suspects that this decision has been a late, unplanned one for Ford, as recently as 2017 it introduced the latest seventh-generation Fiesta model, giving the car a facelift just last autumn, with the familiar blue Ford oval badge now set proudly in the centre of the latest Fiesta’s grille; a model that could become a rare sight on our roads.

Ford stopped production of all three-door versions of the Fiesta earlier in 2022, and with crumbling sales, the five-door bodyshell will also be sacrificed at the final Fiesta manufacturing plant, Ford’s historic German facility in Cologne (where the company has been based since 1932). This will enable complete focus on the production of a compact electric vehicle, developed on the shared Volkswagen MEB platform, as used on the VW ID.3 and ID.4. Ford has also publicly announced that all production of its acclaimed S-Max and Galaxy people carriers will also draw to a halt in 2023. By 2030 all of Ford’s passenger vehicles in Europe will be fully electric and all its vehicles (vans included) will be EV only by 2035.

Initially the Fiesta was planned as a true pan-European model, with the car made in Cologne, and well as Ford’s Dagenham, Essex, ex-manufacturing plant, plus an all-new purpose-built factory in Valencia in the popular wine-growing region of Spain. After much hype and anticipation of Ford entering the youthful supermini European market sector in the late 1970s, Ford presented a number of intriguing Fiesta-based special ‘show’ models, using its new car’s front-drive base and transverse 950cc and 1.1-litre engines (a first for Ford of Europe). These included the funky, off-road Tuareg prototype at the 1976 Turin motor show, plus the racy Ghia Corrida small gullwing coupe and the Prima; a versatile multi-body configuration pick-up-cum-coupe hatch. Donald Healey’s last car creation was also based on the first Fiesta with a special tuned one-off model in 1978.

Launched initially in Britain with just those two engines (essentially Ford UK’s old cross-flow Kent motors, dating back to the 1959 Ford Anglia and mounted sideways), plus a wide choice of trim levels (including the sporty S and luxury range-topping Ghia), the Fiesta quickly became Europe’s fastest-selling new car. In late 1977 a Kent 1,297cc engine was added to the Fiesta range, this motor proving the basis for the first 100mph Fiesta, the popular XR2 ‘hot hatch’ of 1981. It had just four-speeds and a meagre 83PS (61kW) on tap, plus those essential cosmetic boy racer add-ons, such as pepper pot alloy wheels, side stripes, wheel arch extensions, a rear hatch spoiler and front fog lamps.


Although left wanting in many key areas, the non-injected XR2 sold like hot cakes, but for 1984 the original bluff-fronted Fiesta received a facelift (often mistakenly referred to as the Fiesta 2), with the same three-door-only bodyshell, but a sleeker, more aerodynamic front end ahead of the A-pillars with more advanced alloy-head CVH engines. The popular XR2 variant was given a more powerful 1.6-litre, 97PS (71kW) unit, taken from its larger Escort XR3 performance sibling in 1986, and diesel options became available for Ford’s baby models for the first time too.

After a long 13-year production run, in 1989 the original Fiesta was replaced by larger (six inches longer) and more spacious second-generation BE13 model, sharing the same suspension layout as the 1976 original, but now using updated fuel-injected engines and a five-speed gearbox. The most welcome change, though, was the addition of five-door coachwork for the first time, as cleverly illustrated by Ford’s inspired Urba prototype, a Gen 2 Fiesta ‘concept’ with two opening doors one side, and one on the other, to create a four-door car. Predictably the new version of the Fiesta was an instant hit, shooting to the top of the new car sales charts. In time, the true second-generation Fiesta saw the addition of a lively RS Turbo model (a 1.6-litre at first, then a 1.8-litre from 1992). Not as refined as the benchmark Peugeot 205 GTi hot hatch rival, the RS Turbo models failed to match the success of the lesser Fiesta models, not helped by an exorbitant insurance rating at the time.

In 1995 the agreeable but slightly bland Fiesta II was updated for the so-called BE95 MK IV (really just a facelift), with styling alterations including a new front end with a rounded Ford ‘family-look’ corporate grille (in line with the larger Mondeo, Scorpio, etc.). During this model’s 13-year life, Ford experimented with an intriguing Australian Orbital two-stroke engine, building more than 50 examples and giving them to British police forces to try out on a daily basis. The engines proved reliable, but Ford eventually rejected launching the unit for public consumption due to high emission levels.  


This revamped 1995 Fiesta also spawned an odd badge-engineered derivative; the third-generation Mazda 121. To-date, the first and only Mazda vehicle to be built in Europe (at Dagenham), this entry Mazda hatchback was simply a rebadged Fiesta, adorned with Mazda insignia and the brand’s corporate grille. This version of the Fiesta also saw a new entry-level model based on its platform; the distinctive Ford Ka, plus unusual overseas derivatives, such as the booted three-box Ikon Sedan in India and Brazil, with a pick-up ‘bakkie’ version (the Bantam) developed for South Africa. For British market consumption, this 1989-2002 Fiesta was still built in Dagenham (as well as Spain and Germany), but UK production finally ended at the ancient plant in 2002, when the next generation of Ford Fiesta replaced this incarnation.

On 1st April 2002 Ford launched the all-new fifth-generation (by its misleading numbering logic/illogic) Fiesta; with more prim and proper upright styling. Another showroom winner, the fifth Fiesta lasted unchanged until 2008 and included the dynamically acclaimed Fiesta ST performance hatch. With this latest model, the Fiesta became the UK’s best-selling car for 18 years in a row between 2002 and 2020. This situation remained the same, right up until the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, with the Fiesta routinely toping the British new car sales tables consistently, month after month. So far during 2022, however, it has only appeared (in its 2017 seventh-generation form) in the British top ten best-sellers twice, being comfortably outsold by its newer Vauxhall Corsa rival, and disappearing for the first time ever from the overall European top 50 new car sales list.

Going forward without the Fiesta as part of its roster, Ford plans to launch seven full-electric vehicles in Europe, including a battery-electric version of the Puma that will be built in Romania. The Puma will become Ford’s entry model, with a new EV medium crossover and sport crossover set for launch by 2024, but the Fiesta doesn’t feature at all in that product plan.

Instead, Ford is already investing to build electric cars at the Cologne plant, including a new battery assembly facility scheduled to start operations in 2024. But after such an illustrious and successful career, I am confident that the Blue Oval will make a suitable fuss when the very last Fiesta comes off the German production line at the plant in June 2023.

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