Auto Outlook: Ford Focus beats Corolla as world best seller

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
Auto Outlook: Ford Focus beats Corolla as world best seller
Ford Motor Co. sold 1.02 million Focus models globally in 2012, making the compact the world's best-selling passenger car, according to automotive research firm R.L. Polk. Nearly a third of Focus sales were in China. (Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)

There's a new sheriff in town and it wears a blue oval -- or does it?

Automotive market research firm R.L. Polk says the Ford Focus topped the venerable Toyota Corolla as the world's best selling passenger car last year.


Ford sold 1,020,410 Focus vehicles in 2012, largely on the strength of the car's popularity in China. Ford sold nearly 300,000 Focus models in China, where it also sells an older-generation Focus in addition to the all-new 2013 model, and worldwide Focus sales topped Corolla's by 147,636 cars, Polk said.

However, Toyota said the Corolla is still king if sales of all Corolla-based vehicles like the Matrix in the United States, the Auris in Europe and the Verso in Japan are included, bringing the tally to 1.16 million vehicles.

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About 25 percent of the Focus models were sold in the United States.

The Ford F-Series pickup, perennially the best-selling light truck, was third with 785,630 vehicles sold in 2012.

"Ford has been among the leaders in Europe for a long time and the Focus and the Fiesta have traditionally done well there," said Polk analyst Tom Libby. "A resurgence in the U.S. with passenger cars has helped Ford too."

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Chinese automaker Wuling had the fourth most popular vehicle worldwide with its Zhiguang, a van with sales of 768,870 mostly in China.

Toyota's midsize Camry -- the best-selling passenger car in the United States -- was No. 5 globally with sales of 729,793, followed by the Ford Fiesta (723,130), the Volkswagen Golf (699,148), the Chevrolet Cruze (661,325), the Honda Civic (651,259) and the Honda CR-V with sales of 624,982.

Distracted driving

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Despite years of efforts by lawmakers in many towns, cities and states, the National Highway Safety Administration estimates at any given moment 660,000 motorists are using cellphones and other mobile electronic devices while behind the wheel.

The telephone poll of 6,000 drivers age 16 and older concluded that while most people "know that texting while driving is a dangerous behavior," many still do it.

The NHTSA survey found 48.6 percent of the respondents admit they answer phone calls while driving; 59 percent indicated they stay in traffic while on cellphone calls rather than pull over.

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About half, 48.5 percent, of respondents said they never place a call while driving, but one-third of younger drivers indicated they continue to make calls and 60 percent said they answered calls while on the road.


Despite years of anti-texting campaigns, messages and laws, 14 percent said they sent texts or emails while driving.

More than three-quarters of those asked indicated -- if they were a passenger in a vehicle -- they likely would say something to a driver who was sending a text message. Seventy-four percent supported bans on handheld phone use and 94 percent favored a ban on texting while driving.

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In 2011, 12 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes indicated they were talking on cellphones, nearly half of them 15 to 29 years old.

"Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America's roadways," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cellphone when you're behind the wheel can save lives -- maybe even your own."

Texting while driving is against the law in 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. Ten states and four U.S. territories ban use of handheld cellphones while driving.

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The margin of error of the poll was not given.

Consumers loving small SUVs

The days of the gas-sucking road hog SUV may be as numbered as those of the full-size rear-wheel drive V-8 sedan.

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Compact crossovers, like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV and Ford Escape are practically flying off dealer lots these days as families find the small car-based vehicles utilitarian, fuel-efficient and, in some cases like Mazda's CX-5, fun to drive.

"It's a real sweet spot in the marketplace," R.L. Polk & Co. analyst Tom Libby told The Detroit News. "It's the right combination of functionality and size and gas mileage."

Automakers sold 450,000 small SUVs from January through March, more than 12 percent of all new-car sales. The redesigned Ford Escape saw sales jump 25 percent over the first quarter of 2012 with nearly 73,000 sold, knocking Honda's CR-V out of first place, Autodata Corp. said.

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Honda sold 65,374 CR-Vs and Toyota sold 41,413 RAV4s in the first quarter of 2013. Subaru sold 21,144 Foresters and Mazda sold nearly 18,000 CX-5s.

My 2014 CX-5 has a rear view camera, something two members of Congress and parents of children injured by cars going in reverse think should be standard on all new vehicles.

President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2007 requiring the government to set rear visibility standards by Feb. 28, 2011, but NHTSA has delayed issuing a final regulation four times since then.

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A NHTSA proposal in December 2010 would have mandated backup cameras in all new cars by next year. The administration says about 100 children under age 5 are killed by backing up vehicles annually -- more than half 1 year old or younger.

A back up video camera would cost $159 to $203 for a vehicle not equipped with a display screen. Vehicles that already have video displays or on-board navigation systems could have the rear visibility camera added for $58 to $88.

Honda is the first manufacturer making rear-view cameras standard equipment on all of its new vehicles.

One more word on recalls

There was another major recall, this one affecting passenger side airbags in more than 3.4 million older model Japanese, General Motors and BMW models.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda said they are recalling vehicles because of a problem with the propellant used in the passenger-side airbag. All of the airbags were made by Japan's Takata Corp., illustrating the risks of an industry using common components to keep costs down.

Toyota is recalling some 1.73 million vehicles -- Corollas, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra and Lexus SC 430 models made from November 2000 to March 2004 -- about 580,000 of them sold in North America. Honda is recalling about 1.14 million vehicles worldwide, including Civic, CR-V crossover utility vehicles and Odyssey minivans; Nissan, about 480,000 Maxima, Pathfinder, Sentra and Infiniti i35 and QX4 vehicles made from 2001 to 2003, and Mazda, about 45,000 vehicles.


Only 149 of the 2003-04 Mazda6 and 2004 Mazda RX-8 cars affected were sold in the United States. The only GM vehicle recalled was the 2003 Pontiac Vibe, which was made alongside the Corolla. BMW was still determining which vehicles might have faulty air bags.

'It is possible that the passenger front airbag inflators in affected vehicles may deploy with too much pressure, which may cause the inflator casing to rupture and could result in injury. Honda is aware of one crash in which a passenger front airbag deployed with too much pressure, causing the casing to rupture," Honda said in a statement.

The fix will swap new airbag inflators for the defective ones. Toyota said there have been five reported faults but no deaths, injuries or accidents because of the airbag issue.

"Most of the cars are very old and we don't think that all the cars will need to replace the components," a Takata Corp. spokesman told the Financial Times in Japan.

Recalls are part of the car business.

Automakers filed more than 650 safety recalls last year affecting 17.8 million vehicles, child seats and vehicle equipment.

The government safety watchdog National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the agency influenced the recall of more than 9 million vehicles and 60,000 items of vehicle equipment in 2012, including many recalls initiated by consumer complaints.


NHTSA received 41,912 complaints about potential safety defects last year compared to 49,417 in 2011 and 65,765 in 2010.

"The role of the consumer in influencing auto recalls cannot be underestimated," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "Consumers are the lifeblood of the recall process and recalls are often the direct result of a government investigation into consumer complaints."

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