Ford Death Watch 25: The Transmogrification of the Taurus

by Neunelf
ford death watch 25 the transmogrification of the taurus

Sin City’s casinos are designed to create the illusion of chance. Vegas’ neon lights, chiming bells and piped-in oxygen keep hopefuls dazed, confused and distracted while their dollars are vacuumed from their wallets. And yet all the neon in Nevada couldn’t distract the Ford floggers at the recent National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention. The Blue Oval’s metal movers and shakers hit town looking for one thing: assurances that FoMoCo’s new, new turnaround will work. They got nada.

That said, Big Al Mulally’s first tète-a-tète with his dealers garnered mixed reviews. Although Al won kudos for his straight talking style— promising to dial back Ford’s dealer dissing corporate culture and a pledge to play car salesman for a day— his audience was far from convinced. The mood remains… tense.

“This is it for them,” Wisconsin dealer Steve Marshall pronounced. “Their last shot.” Ford's NADA members are well aware that their immediate future depends on FoMoCo’s ability to implement their new, new Way Fordward. They’re skittish, and no wonder: the dealers are looking at Ford’s “new” models for ’08 and thinking pigs and lipstick shades.

This year, Ford’s offering a refreshed Five Hundred, Montego (which is, let's face it, a refreshed Five Hundred) and Freestyle. The models are scheduled to receive a new three bar grill nose, a larger 3.5-liter six cylinder engine, more safety kit and an as-yet-unspecified interior upgrade. Given the troika's modest sales, the rejigged pigs might not fly.

Last year, Ford sold 165,152 Five Hundreds, Freestyles and Montegos, down 22 percent from 2005. The $23,785 Five Hundred SEL and $26,670 Freestyle SEL currently have $2k customer cash on the hood, while the $24,585 Montego comes with a choice of $2k or 0% financing. They may not be lame ducks, but neither are they what you’d call high flyers.

As of January first, Ford/Mercury dealers harbored an 89-day supply of Five Hundreds, a 115-day supply of Freestyles and a 105-day supply of Montegos. Getting rid of these “old” models is Job 1, and it ain’t gonna be easy, or particularly profitable, for anyone concerned. Sensibly enough Mulally waited for NADA members to return to their car-choked car lots to unveil his biggest product news: the Taurus lives! And the Sable! Well, at least in name.

Mulally hinted as much at the start of his tenure; dissing the ancien regime for killing off storied monikers in favor of a farrago of “F” names and alphanumerics. In an announcement at the windy city auto show, Mulally formally resurrected Ford’s last chart topping automobile. The Five Hundred now becomes the Taurus, the Freestyle becomes the Taurus X and the Montego becomes the Sable.

As you read this, auto writers around the world are trotting-out the old “rose by any other name” shtick. The more charitable amongst them are already claiming that Ford’s retro-moniker machinations represent some kind of “back to basics” movement by Ford’s Glass House Gang. Writing in the Detroit Free Press, Mark Phelan says “Reviving the Taurus name is a small correction, but it shows Ford customers, dealers and employees that the captain is awake at the wheel.”

Or not. In a profound sense, the name changes are the most cynical examples of badge engineering yet inflicted on Ford’s dwindling (if gullible) customer base. What’s old is new, and new for you! Even if they’re not true, rumors that Ford may retrofit unsold Five Hundreds, Montegos and Freestyles with three-bar body kits and new badges shows the creative bankruptcy behind the “re-christening.”

Indeed the Captain may be fast asleep. Last month, Big Al proclaimed that he liked “the Taurus brand; everybody has such fond feelings for it." First, the Taurus was a model, not a brand (Big Al should be forced to watch re-runs of the Taurus-era TV show Eight is Enough). Second, “everybody” doesn’t share Alan’s enthusiasm for the model– especially those who, unlike a chauffeur-driven Boeing executive with a Lexus in his private parking space, experienced the Taurus at the end of its long, sad decline, courtesy of Hertz.

Perhaps Ford should give Mrs. Mulally a randomly selected Taurus fresh off the assembly line for a year’s driving and see how that turns out. Meanwhile, Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting Inc. shares our skepticism. “Its laughable that they take a brand that they just killed that was so damaged and then put it on a car that’s been struggling, and assume that the face-lift will work some sales magic.”

So the model that saved Ford and inspired a book that inspired an airplane guy whose success inspired a Ford scion to hire the guy to save Ford, lives. It remains to be seen if the carmaker that made the model that conquered the market that faded into mediocrity can use such blatant sleight of hand to hold on long enough to ante up to win the pot and play again.

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  • Studedude1961 Studedude1961 on Feb 16, 2007

    They killed the Focus hatch and wagon? What does Ford have left now other than the 500/Taurus/Whatever, trucks, and a handful of SUVs?

  • Cayman Cayman on Feb 16, 2007

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!!! ITS NOT THE NAME!!! Mercedes builds overpriced, over-complicated, ill-named cars, with a dealership network that isn't particularly liked around the world, and that car division STILL makes a profit!!! Mercedes obviously understands its core customer and it delivers EXACTLY the VEHICLE the customer wants. Ford (and Chrysler, and certain divisions of GM, for that matter) tries to be all things to all people, and it fails miserably. The vehicle stinks because it's been designed by too many different committees, none of whom have the guts to stand up for excellence. If you are so shallow as to be obsessed with the name and the "brand", then you might consider calling it the Ford Compromise, because that's what it really is. Why can't the Big 2.5 fix anything? Because they waste time applying a new name to the pudgy, airheaded model instead of sending her to the gym and finishing school. Until Ford understands the market, and delivers tightly focused products that hit the market segments, then it will always lag the industry leaders. There's no one thing wrong with cars like the 500/Taurus -- its just that there's not enough people for whom the car is just right, and you don't make money producing hundreds of thousands of cars for a market that will buy less than half of your break-even production run. Sweeping changes to the whole Ford vehicle development process are needed to turn this boat around, otherwise, the F-boat is indeed going to keep sinking.

  • CoastieLenn Stellantis gonna stellant. Isn't the Compass similarly sized? How is there a hole in the lineup? Seems to me that they had one two many entrants in the compact crossover segment- being the Cherokee and the Compass. The Renegade takes the sub-compact segment, the Grand Cherokee takes the midsize segment (even though it doesn't have third row seating), and the Wagoneer takes the full sized segment. I really want a nice Cherokee Trailhawk V6, but I can never see myself actually buying one because of the litany of documented issues with basically everything in the Dodge/Jeep/Ram inventory. Their current electrical gremlin trajectory rivals that of VW/Audi, but nearly as expensive to repair.
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