“I’ll be sad to see the back of the Fiesta, far more than the Focus, Mondeo and Galaxy”

I’ve been asked a few times over the past few weeks how I feel about Ford’s decision to kill the Fiesta. And I think ‘glum’ sums it up as well as anything, as glum as I’ve been about any industry news in well over a decade and, let’s face it, there’s been plenty of late.

And of course some of it is because I’ll be genuinely sad to see the back of the Fiesta, far more than the Focus, Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy which are also for the chop. For the past dozen years or more, it’s been the best small car on sale and, overwhelmingly, Britain’s most popular car to boot.

But actually, that’s not what is making me so, well, glum. It is what it signifies, which is nothing good at all. And now I need you to just go with me for a bit and cling onto this train of thought, because the destination is important.

Consider: Ford killed the Fiesta because despite still selling many hundreds of thousands every year it makes so little money. Lego licensing is a more profitable revenue stream. Seriously. It also figured it can make far more money selling expensive electric cars with much higher margins in the same factory.

Now, if Ford can’t make meaningful money selling a really popular small car, why should anyone else selling a similar, but less successful machine? And all that’s before we’ve thought about what comes next, which are powered by electricity. We are starting to see what small electric cars are going to be like and, to be honest, I don’t much like the look of them. Because while you could buy a Fiesta for under £19,000, the closest EV equivalent, the Vauxhall Corsa-e, costs over £30,000. And they all have rubbish ranges, with even the best of them having you gnawing your knuckles after a lot fewer than 200 miles have elapsed. Some a fraction even of that.

Why? Because batteries are big and expensive, which you will have noticed are also precisely the two most important things a small car should not be. They are fundamentally mismatched. The only way you can make a small EV sufficiently compact is to use small batteries, which torpedoes the range and still results in a very expensive car.

Of course the cost has not been that significant recently because people very rarely walk into a dealer these days and slap 30 big ones down on the desk. They’ll pay a bit up front, then spend three years on a PCP, then decide whether to sell back, exchange or buy the car themselves. Which has worked really well for years because we’ve become so used to cheap money being a fact of life. Except it isn’t any more. So who’s going to be able to afford to spend 30 grand on a Corsa that needs charging every three hours?

“It’s hard to believe that the McLaren P1 is already 10 years old”

And what will happen to people who still need a small car? They’ll hang onto the one they already have and run it into the ground. So if you think the prices of second-hand cars is quite high at present, I fear you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’ve just had the worst quarter for used car sales in seven years, a trend I don’t see reversing any time soon.

Is the affordable runabout really going to die? It’s hard to say, though if anyone looks like saving it right now, it’s the Chinese who are lining up to take over that position in the market now the Korean brands are as well-regarded (and expensive) as the Europeans.

But even if they do, people will still have to pay for their electricity, which is already as expensive as petrol on the motorway before – and here’s the killer – the government is taking anything in tax. Which it was always going to have to do, even before the economic body blows of Brexit, Ukraine, Covid and Truss. Now the need to recover lost fuel duty will be greater than ever, and as it’s almost impossible to tax home charging (because how do you separate what goes in your car from what powers your toaster?), road pricing seems overwhelmingly likely, which will hit hardest poor people in rural communities who have no choice but to drive, also known as those most likely to have a small, affordable car today.

This is the law of unintended consequences on a scale I’ve not seen before in this industry. In time it is possible that batteries will become more energy dense and more affordable, but don’t hold your breath – if it comes it is years from now. And what should a Fiesta driver do in the meantime? My advice is to cling to it, and for as long as you possibly can.

In slightly less serious news, in the last month I also found myself back behind the wheel of a McLaren P1. If it seems hard to believe the hybrid hypercar is already 10 years old, all I can tell you is that the process is not made any easier by driving one. It feels today what it felt back then: one of the most outrageous and capable machines ever to earn the right to wear a numberplate.

But there is increasing chatter that McLaren is preparing a successor to coincide with the 60th anniversary next year of Bruce founding the original company. It will, of course, be even faster, however ridiculous that sounds, but what I hope is that it’s packed with technological innovation, which will make it lighter and better to drive. Before it started the P1 project, there was not a single person at McLaren who’d ever worked on a hybrid system, yet it turned out to be at least as impressive as the rival designs produced by Porsche and Ferrari at the same time. It’s more of that pioneering spirit I’d like to see now. I wonder also what it will be called: P2 doesn’t seem like much of an option…

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel