Selling a Kia in ‘90s America wasn’t going to be easy, even if you’re one of the Big Three. Sure, Ford had shown that it more than capable of getting its own mediocre cars off the lot back then, but what about a captive import Kia? That took some emotion.
Even though the big blue oval needed a small car on its lots, Ford couldn’t just take the Kia Pride and call it a Ford. It’s hard to believe that the builder of countless legendary vehicles like the Mustang, the F150, the Galaxie, and the Fairlane could put its own dignity on the line by calling a Korean hatchback the brands’ “Pride.” It just couldn’t be done.
They needed a fun name for a small car that represented a significant step downmarket for the brand. And while Ford sold the Fiesta abroad with its Spanish party image, the name wasn’t going to get slapped on a Korean rebadge. No, this car wasn’t a party. Not quite. But it was festive. No, it was Festiva.
This ad shows that the character of the car wasn’t just a bonus. It was part of the package you could get for less than $8000 in 1991. Without that festivity, your Festiva simply wasn’t leaving the production line whole. With a car like the Kia Pride, you were going to need that festive goodwill because the Mazda-derived four-cylinder motivating the thing wasn’t really going to cut it at 63 horsepower. Luckily for buyers, quality control was clearly on the job:
The Ford Festiva was not a good car. That goes for the wild Taurus SHO V6-powered Shogun version in Jay Leno’s garage as well. An overpowered box instead of an underpowered box isn’t necessarily more useful, even if it’s a bit more fun.
But the drawbacks of the car can’t take away its spacious greenhouse, economical running costs, and relative durability. I still regularly see one rust-free Festiva in a beautiful period teal color on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a notoriously difficult environment for cars of all kinds. On the other side of the world (though far closer to where I currently am), a version of this same care, the SAIPA Pride, remains a top seller in Iran, where it has been locally produced for decades, despite the car’s notorious reputation for poor safety. While safety doesn’t seem to be a priority at SAIPA, maybe the plant has the same quality control protocol for the car’s general demeanor. It’s worth looking into, I’d say.