The third-generation Ford Focus RS will go on sale in 2015, high-ranking Ford officials have confirmed for the first time.

The news marks a major shift for Ford, which in recent years has focused on mass-market models to raise sales volumes and cut costs under boss Alan Mulally’s ‘One Ford’ strategy that develops cars for global sale using as many common parts as possible.

However, with its new model roll-out almost complete, the crucial American market in profit, Asian business growing and a rescue strategy in place for its ailing European arm, bosses are now said to have agreed investment in niche models with the potential to add lustre to the brand and raise its profile beyond the struggling mass market.

Barb Samardzich, vice president of product development for Ford Europe, told Autocar: “We’ve concentrated on developing cars for world markets, and you can see the result of that with the Edge and Mustang scheduled to come to Europe, and the Fiesta and Focus in the US. Our ‘One Ford’ policy has succeeded in pushing our mainstream products further than ever, and the next step is to provide customers with more exemplary, smaller-volume highlight products. Planning doesn’t just have to be about the mainstream now; we can go to the edges again.”

Samardzich stopped short of fully confirming a new Focus RS, saying only “watch this space” when probed, but others at Ford have confirmed development work has begun. Autocar understands sign-off for the project is imminent, dependent on final analysis showing a business case for it to sit beside the new, European-bound Mustang, which is confirmed for 2014.

However, Samardzich also revealed to Autocar that recent studies concluded customers for Ford’s high-performance vehicles were divided into very different groups. This is believed to have significantly strengthened the case for a Focus RS by abating fears that it would cannibalise Focus ST or Mustang sales.

“There’s more room for more performance products across the range in the small, medium and large car segments,” said Samardzich. “A whole suite of such cars is what I have in mind. I’m noting there are two different kinds of customers — one for ST products, which are fun but have an everyday usability, and another, more racing-focused customer who wants an RS-type car. Evolving both alongside Mustang is complementary; the customers for one don’t necessarily want the other.”

The new Focus RS’s case is also strengthened considerably because it’s expected to use a new, Ford-developed 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder tuned to around 330bhp. The engine, which will also feature in the Mustang, will comfortably exceed the output of the last Focus RS’s Volvo-derived 2.5-litre five-pot that generated 301bhp, or 345bhp in the RS500. It will make use of latest turbo and direct-injection technology to greatly increase fuel efficiency.

It will have to be significantly re-engineered for the Focus where, unlike in the Mustang, it will be transversely mounted. Power and torque are also expected to be moderately higher than in the Mustang to ensure it remains the halo performance product in Ford’s range, especially in Europe, where the bulk of sales are expected. Initial discussions to use electric motors on the rear wheels to boost performance and cut emissions were reportedly deemed too expensive to develop and a negative distraction for buyers.

As in the current Focus ST, the engine note will be amplified into the cabin using Ford’s Sound Symposer, which opens a valve between the engine bay and cabin.

Other upgrades will include a return for Revoknuckle front suspension that was developed for the last RS, but rejected for the current ST because engineers thought Ford’s electronic torque-vectoring system sufficient to handle its 247bhp and 265lb ft. The RS’s higher outputs are believed to have convinced engineers Revoknuckle is needed to curb torque steer and aid traction.

A limited-slip differential is certain, plus beefed-up brakes and tyres and a sportier cabin. Engineers are said to have appraised using the Kuga’s four-wheel drive system, which uses the same platform, but it’s reportedly too heavy and tricky to package in a low-slung, sports-orientated car. Like the ST, the RS will come in five-door form only, while an estate is unlikely but possible.

Reports have suggested that Mondeo coupé RS and Fiesta RS models have been evaluated, but plans have stalled while Ford tackles its European crisis. It is said there are concerns over the potential demand for a £20k-plus hot supermini, while a potential Passat CC-rivalling Mondeo coupé is yet to be signed off.

Samardzich has confirmed work on the Euro-spec Mustang is progressing well. She declined to confirm that the car will feature independent rear suspension (it has been spied testing with such an arrangement), but confirmed the car would feature new tech.

“The beauty of One Ford is that every step forward is shared by every market,” she said. “All I can confirm is that the Mustang will feature some new, exciting technologies that will benefit customers in every market. We know there is enthusiasm for the car in Europe, and we know the Mustang name resonates globally. We must ensure it delivers on that promise in every market it’s sold in.