By on December 1, 2008

It’s been a while since we’ve run a Ford Death Watch. Which doesn’t mean Ford isn’t dying. It is. It’s just dying more slowly and less spectacularly than GM and Chrysler. In fact, Ford’s head-faked the press. They’ve convinced the pundocrats that The Blue Oval Boys don’t need federal bailout bucks to survive. Oh what the Hell, FoMoCo CEO Alan Mulally just about told Congress, as you’re offering… we might as well accept. In truth, the Detroit’s last man standing is about to hit the pavement just as hard as its cross-town co-conspirators.

Tomorrow, the injury will be audible– and not just in the halls of Congress. Ford’s November sales stats will go splat. Ford analyst George Pipas will seek shelter in metal-moving relativism. Just as Ford proudly trumpets the fact that their cars are nearasdammit as reliable as Toyota’s, Pipas will claim that Ford’s sales drop is nearasdammit as bad (i.e. good) as Toyota’s. Which will be both true and irrelevant.

All things being negative, ToMoCo is still on track to bank $5b in profit this year. Meanwhile, Ford shed $2.6b in Q3, burning through $7.7b of its cash pile. So forget Toyota. General Motors is the more appropriate comparison. And there are only two significant differences between Ford’s plight and that of GM: scope and scale.

GM has eight U.S. brands, six of which need to die. Mazda excepted, Ford sells four brands in the U.S., two of which need to die. GM has around 6550 dealers, 5k of which need to die. Ford has around 4k dealers, 3k of which need to die. Meanwhile, Ford and GM are struggling under the weight of identical labor contracts, desperately trying to shed plants and jobs. In short, as goes GM, so goes Ford.

Commentators— and Ford— like to point out that The Blue Oval Boys are in less danger of running out of cash than GM. Truth be told, the danger’s the same; only the time line varies. Ford’s decision to stock-up on money before the current fiscal meltdown– mortgaging everything up to and including their logo– was either the smartest move the company ever made or the luckiest. Or both. But it doesn’t alter the end result. Unless Ford starts taking in more money than it spends, it’s going to go bankrupt.

As Ford CEO Alan Mullaly bellies-up to the Congressional bailout bar, he’ll parrot GM’s claim that numbers alone don’t tell the story. Right-sizing, on track, bridge loan, bright future, new products, fuel efficiency, world platform, economic downturn, yada yada yada. As the only American automaker with a plausible turnaround tale to tell (which isn’t saying much), Ford will get the money. After all, Congress wants to save SOMEONE in the American auto industry.

Whether or not the feds re-stoke Ford’s coffers and/or help it reduce its overheads, FoMoCo’s comeback is destined for failure, for one reason: branding. Ford doesn’t have any.

Quick: what’s Ford’s slogan? Drive Quality, Drive Green, Drive Safe, Drive Smart or Drive One? Yes. The latter is Ford’s ur-slogan, which says, well, nothing. Given the ailing American automaker’s product overlap, the company’s call to arms might as well be “pick one.” Edge, Flex, Taurus X or Escape?

Make no mistake: this is no small matter. If Ford is to survive, it must come-up with a compelling reason to buy a Ford instead of anything else.

Reliability? Toyota. Resale value? Honda. Price? Hyundai. Stress-free shopping? Saturn. Buy American? Only if you’re thinking continentally. In today’s mixed media world, a car company without tightly-focused branding is like a twenty dollar bill that’s been bleached white in the wash.

Ford’s anodyne anonymity doesn’t end there. Lincoln’s “Reach Higher” slogan– a not-so-subliminal slam at working class buyers– reflects the luxury brand’s lack of a coherent product or marketing plan. And if that’s not enough to convince you that Ford doesn’t “get it,” Lincoln’s farrago of MK monikers illustrates the point nicely. As do the vehicles themselves: a range of tarted-up Fords whose excellence is there for no one to see.
As for Mercury, other than ogling their comely spokesmodel, what’s the point?

Legislators are not likely to concern themselves with such things. If products are the subject, mpgs are the answer legislators want to hear. If pushed, Mulally will argue that Ford’s 2010 Euro-style products will save both planet and company. Politicians will score some points for the folks back home, cross their fingers and sign the check.

But if the pols really wanted to protect the taxpayer’s money (as if), they’d remember that nobody ever submitted a business plan that ends in bankruptcy. The pols would focus on the fact that Ford’s future depends on its products, and products depend on their branding. Someone would look Mr. Mulally in the eyes and ask a simple question: what, sir, is a Ford?

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74 Comments on “Editorial: Ford Death Watch 48: Branding Isn’t Everything...”


  • avatar
    Zarba

    Speaking of comely spokesmodels, I haven’t seen Jill in a while…

    Has she been downsized?

  • avatar

    Ford hasn’t had a coherent branding strategy in decades, if ever. Their products have been all over the map for as long as I’ve been following the industry–over a quarter-century.

    Let’s jump back to the 1980s. They introduced the breakthrough 1983 T-Bird and 1986 Taurus, only to follow them up with a hopelessly conservative Continental and derivative, overengineered T-Bird in 1989. Meanwhile, the Crown Vic, Town Car, Mustang, and Escort soldiered on, remnants from a previous era–or even the era before that one.

    My understanding is that corporate politics are to blame. Fortunes shifted frequently in the old Ford-run Ford. Where family ownership might have conferred stability, it did the opposite.

    Maybe Mulally is making a difference here? The proof will be in future products. Do they share a coherent identity, or not?

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Ford has four US brands? I see Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln. Mazda and Volvo are not US brands.

    Michael is correct. Ford tends to have a product in every market segment. The problem is that not enough of them are competitive in their segments.

  • avatar

    mtypex :

    Well I was counting Volvo– as a brand sold in the U.S. But I’ll amend the text. Tx.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Volvo is sold in the US, though it would be easy to forget that.

    I dunno, I’m discovering an inner Ford fan that I didn’t think existed a few years ago.

    I like the exteriors quite a bit; especially the newer models have fairly interesting styling. You may or may not like it, but you can spot ID a lot of Ford cars without checking a badge from half a mile away. There aren’t that many cars that do that (at least for me). If they could get the interior on the Focus and Mustang into decent shape (which they appear to be doing) I would be out of reasons why they suck.

    A lot of Lincoln cars are very striking in a successful retired guy who likes golf kind of way.

    The Ford Fiesta is a sharp looking subcompact.

    I think Fords brand identity is or should be sharp looking American styled quality vehicles. I don’t think it would be that hard to forge; somehow they managed to get my domestic hating ass to take them seriously.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    “domestic hating ass”
    Score one more for the “best and brightest”

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    mtypex: Mazda is not really a Ford brand, as they are only part owners (and just sold a bunch of their stock). Volvo, however, is, just like Saab is a GM brand. Just because all their products are made overseas doesn’t change that.

    As for Ford overall, I see them as the winners of King of Detroit. If Chrysler and/or GM goes out of business, a lot of those sales will go Ford’s way. Plus, they seem to be improving their quality, and Mulally has the advantage of not being a lifer there-he really seems to have turned things around, at least a little bit. That is, he brings an outsider’s perspective of the real world-he hasn’t lived in the bubble of Detroit all his life.

  • avatar
    krohde

    “Edge, Flex, Taurus X or Escape?”

    So how is this any different than Toyota, who has an even more confusing lineup, with the RAV4, Highlander, 4Runner and that ugly new station wagon thing, which I can’t remember the name of.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I’m more worried about Lincoln than Ford when it comes to branding.

    Ford still has the “all-American, everycar” image. In the local paper, when a columnist or reviewer refers to a particular vehicle to make a point or identify a certain segment of the middle-class market, as often as not they will use a Ford model.

    The bigger problem is Lincoln – it certainly isn’t a top-tier luxury car anymore, so exactly why should people buy one…?

    On the other hand, GM spent over $3 billion on Cadillac, and I’m asking the same question.

  • avatar
    seoultrain

    Ford = American. It’s as simple as that, and it’s more true for Ford than any other domestic marque. A brand also doesn’t have to stand for something specific to be strong.

    You are right about Mercury and Lincoln being totally aimless. Consider Volvo, though. They’ve got a very strong brand, but no one cares. Branding isn’t everything.

  • avatar

    krohde :

    Venza. And you’re right: same mistake. The only real ifference is that Toyota can afford to make stupid ass branding mistakes and lame-brained product overlap (FJ huh?). Ford can’t.

    seoultrain :

    Remind me again where Ford’s making the new Fiesta? I’d like to know what percentage of FoMoCo’s total production is based in the U.S. And it looks like we just might find out.

  • avatar
    jems86

    “Make no mistake: this is no small matter. If Ford is to survive, it must come-up with a compelling reason to buy a Ford instead of anything else.

    Reliability? Toyota. Resale value? Honda. Price? Hyundai. Stress-free shopping? Saturn. Buy American? Only if you’re thinking continentally. In today’s mixed media world, a car company without tightly-focused branding is like a twenty dollar bill that’s been bleached white in the wash.”

    How about “America’s safest cars”. After the IIHS results it is clear that that is what Ford is manufacturing and probably is what will get them through this very rough times.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Ford does have a great business plan, commonality, platform sharing, getting rid of excess capacity/personnel/brands, etc. Unfortunately their products suck. The only genuinely competetive car they have is the Fusion and they have one class leader, the F-150. Other than that there are a beavy of outright bombs, ie. everything built off of the D3 platform, Edge, all of Mercury, all of Lincoln. Also, the Focus sucks, and their SUV’s are dead in the water.

    The company is still structured around the principle of making 100% profit on its bread and butter vehicles, ie Trucks and SUVs. They still can’t make a profit on a car and they have nothing now or in the pipeline that will ever generate the profits the Explorer and Expedition once generated, never mind the declining F series sales. The company has to get way smaller, way faster than it is right now to have any chance at survival.

  • avatar

    jems86 :

    Works for me. I wrote an editorial suggesting this very thing back in the Paleolithic Era.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Based by my travels, Ford seems to have a broad international market, unlike GM. So I think they have a better chance of weathering downturns and gaining market share.

    Now only if they would look at some of the great cars they sell outside of the US and bring them here.

  • avatar
    ionosphere

    Lincoln’s gone down the toilet, as has Cadillac. Downsized cars with boring 3 letter monikers, trying to copy BMW. Well I want a large, comfortable, American car, thank you very much. I got one of the last types of these cars, 2008 Mercury Grand Marquis, a car people love to condemn. Well I love this car and wouldn’t trade it for any current Lincoln (except Town Car) and Cadillac.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    RF : “Remind me again where Ford’s making the new Fiesta? I’d like to know what percentage of FoMoCo’s total production is based in the U.S. And it looks like we just might find out”

    As a % of total vehicles sold under the Ford badge….a healthy % of production is US based given that Ford production is still weighted toward trucks. The F150, Explorer, and Escape are all produced in the US. On the car side—their volume leader—the Focus is produced at the Wayne factory. The Mustang is Flat Rock. The Taurus group in Chicago. The lone exception is the Fusion which is made in Mexico and the Edge + Flex in Oakville. I don’t really count the Crown VIc (Ontario) as it is being phased out.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    Robert-

    You’re forgetting one very crucial thing that truly illuminates why Ford will not wither and die; while GM and Chrysler are trying to survive by cutting products, canceling projects, and shutting down future-tech R&D, Ford is going full steam ahead, introducing compelling products and putting their nose to the grindstone to keep up with Toyota. So, even though Ford’s financial situation is not healthy, their products are best positioned to bridge the gap between the problems of today and the survival of tomorrow. (and that’s completely ignoring the top to bottom reshaping of Ford’s corporate culture that Mullaly has required since he took the helm)

    Does Ford have room for improvement? Most definitely. But they’re making all of the right moves that they need to to remedy that gap. They’ve also gotten lucky, most especially with the MKS that you deride. (which has actually been quite a strong seller) Right now I’d imagine Mullaly is more concerned with Ford being around in 2010 when all of those union cost-savings go into effect rather than trying to sort out what to do with Lincoln and Mercury, which is fine. If they were making idiotic decisions and introducing crappy ill-timed products (a la Wagoner and GM) your criticism may be justified. However, I say, give Mullaly a chance, he’s certainly the only executive in Detroit that has actually shown any aptitude at running his company well.

  • avatar
    seoultrain

    Remind me again where Ford’s making the new Fiesta? I’d like to know what percentage of FoMoCo’s total production is based in the U.S. And it looks like we just might find out.

    We’re not talking about reality, we’re talking about branding. For now, Ford as a brand = American. Whether or not they choose to sully that brand by having people find out they’re shipping jobs overseas is up to them.

  • avatar

    Droid800 :

    All of what you say is true. But none of what you say addresses the question raised here: branding. Except for this…

    Right now I’d imagine Mullaly is more concerned with Ford being around in 2010 when all of those union cost-savings go into effect rather than trying to sort out what to do with Lincoln and Mercury, which is fine.

    I respectfully disagree. It’s not fine. Not at all. The brand is all. Or nothing.

  • avatar
    windswords

    “Truth be told, the danger’s the same; only the timeline varies.”

    Well said. I have always chuckled when various posts about how Ford will be the “last man standing” are made along with the latest prediction of the imminent any-moment-now doom for Chrysler. Ford could be the last man standing – like the poor soul who held on to the stern railing as the Titanic slipped beneath the icy waves. It just means they die a little later.

    Of course taxpayer money will help, but I keep asking is Congress going to give money to a company that is for all intent and purposes controlled by a single family? Maybe the public won’t care after all the money given to banks with little or no debate and oversight.

    Of course new products will help but we’ll have to see where the the new design language is heading. It’s being called “post Kinetic” right now. But one has to wonder what is Ford’s fixation with the “not invented here” philosophy? Kinetic design may be old hat in Europe but almost no one knows it in North America. So why go in a new design direction? Why not just let Ford Europe do the exteriors? If they screw this up they will be in for a world of hurt, possible a fatal blow.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    As previously stated, branding is not everything. What Ford has is the most compelling line-up of vehicles, and apparently continued development, which is something completely lacking at GM and Chrysler. If we’re talking business plans, I’ll choose the one with continued product development and improvement (Ford) over the one that focuses entirely on eliminating waste baskets from engineer’s cubicles and coming up with a snappy slogan while spinning their decent into oblivion as everybody else’s fault and compltely out of their control (GM).

  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    Is that the biggest pic you could get?

  • avatar
    AG

    These bailout hearings remind me of that Family Guy parody of Stephen King meeting his publisher, where he says “this one is about , uh, a lamp monster!”

    Publisher -“You’re not even trying anymore, are you…sigh, when can I have it?”

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    If GM goes down first Ford is toast 90 days later. Mark it on your calendar Robert. Its game over dude. GM and Ford are to intertwined through suppliers and shared technology sharing to survive.

    Saab is toast
    Opel is toast
    Holden is toast
    Merc is toast
    Daewoo is toast
    Jag’s toast
    Land rover’s toast
    Toyota and honda’s toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Suzuki is toast
    Mazda is on the ropes
    Hyundai is toast
    Onstar is toast
    Visteon is toast
    XM/Serius(sic) is toast
    Raytheon is toast
    Delphi is toast
    General Dynamics is toast(at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Dayco is toast
    Magna is toast
    Dana is toast
    Mazda is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Ferrari takes a beating (they license Delphi tech)
    Raytheon is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Hughes is toast at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Denso is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Futaba is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Tokirico is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    BASF is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Denso is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    AC Delco is toast
    GMAC is toast
    Chrysler is toast
    Vetronics is toast
    American axle is toast
    Continental is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Seimens is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min)
    Lear is toast
    Johnson controls is toast (at least in the u.s. for 12 months min maybe)
    Magna is toast
    Plastec is toast
    Alcoa takes a hit
    SKF takes a hit
    National seal takes a hit
    Getrag takes a hit
    Borg warner is toast ( maybe)
    Ashai Glass takes a hit
    Mitsubish takes a hit
    Volvo is toast
    Honda takes a hit
    Toyota takes a big hit
    Dell is gonna take a hit
    The pharmas and the physicians are going to take a big hit
    Insurance companies are going to take a hit
    The Banks are going to take a hit
    The PBGF is gonna take a huge hit
    Medicare is going to take a hit
    Mortgage companies are going to take a hit
    Boeing takes a hit
    AM General is toast
    TACOM Takes a hit
    The Semicounductors take a hit
    Copper takes a hit
    Steel takes a hit
    Rubber takes a hit
    Nascar is totally toast
    NHRA is toast (in a big way)
    SCCA is going to take a hit
    Eaton is going to take a hit
    American trucking takes a hit
    Fanuc takes a hit
    Cincinatti Mllicron takes a hit
    Kitamura takes a hit
    Makino takes a hit
    Mori Seki takes a hit
    Dow Chemi takes a huge hit
    Arvin Meritor is toast
    Karhman is going to take a hit
    Webasto is going to take a huge hit
    Hella is going to take a hit
    Brembo is going to take a hit
    Bher is toast
    Allison transmission is toast
    Kohinoor Setra bus company is toast
    Detroit Diesel is Toast
    Airbus takes a hit
    Lockheed Martin is takes a big hit
    Honeywell takes a hit
    Mahle takes a big hit may be toast
    Sonnax takes a hit
    Everything chrysler touches is toast.
    Illmor enginering is toast

    I could go on all day Get ready we asked for it and its comming! CH11 is game over all or most of these will fold too Its chapter 7 dudes.

  • avatar
    RobertSD

    RF –

    I would argue that branding is not really Ford’s problem in the way you characterize it. The bigger problem is that in the segments that are growing (excuse me… shrinking the least), Ford is not known as a competitor regardless of how competitive their products in the segment are.

    The mid-size sedan class is a great example. Let’s say, theoretically of couse, that Consumer Reports and various other auto tests come out and say that the 2010 Fusion is the new benchmark in the mid-size class. Do you think it would draw that many more people to the vehicle? No. Why? No one knows that Ford makes it. Ford makes the F-150 and the Mustang. Or they do know Ford makes it, but they don’t really understand that it is competitive. Ford makes the F-150, but I’ve not heard that they’re great at family cars. Maybe family SUVs.

    The original 2006 Fusion at the time was considered near the top of class, but it took until late-summer of 2006 to get to the sales levels Ford was really hoping for and only after some 0% financing end of year sales. More people certainly know about the Fusion now, and CR has helped boost its image by touting its reliability… but it’s still a Ford. Ford makes the best trucks, and it makes the iconic Mustang. Toyota and Honda make the mid-size cars that everyone drives. They have as long as the buying public can remember (about 20 years).

    It’s the same reason why the Tundra, no matter how good, no matter how much Toyota publicized and discounted it, would not really crack Ford’s or GM’s market in the near-term. Now, if Toyota keeps it fresh and competitive for 10 years, it might by sheer reputation (not unlike how Toyota and Honda cracked the U.S. market to begin with).

    Same with Ford, the 2010 Fusion seems like it will be very good. It will likely perform even better than the last gen in its segment. But, it will still not set the charts on fire. However, by 2012 when the next-gen Fusion debuts, Ford might have credibility in the space that they can expect to start taking some real marketshare instead of 0.1% here and there.

    No single phrase is going to convey all that. No association like “safety” or “quality” or “fuel-efficiency” will help. I don’t particularly like Drive One, but really, that’s what Ford needs. They just need people to drive one. It’s not about convincing them they are the best at anything if they can’t get people to the dealership.

    They just need people to try them out – especially with the product revolution we’re going to see there in the next 18 months. After that, reputation will allow them to focus what they are associated with in Europe: Ford, the best xxx in its class. That’s real branding.

  • avatar

    RobertSD :

    “Best in class” isn’t branding. Best what?

    You don’t get five bites at that cherry. Just one.

  • avatar
    obbop

    When “Ford” appears in print or heard I think of the many thousands of folks telling of the spark plugs popping out of their V8 engine and paying many hundreds or thousands of dollars for repair.

    A Web search reveals a HUGE number of folks confronted by spark plugs launched into the atmosphere.

    Sorry, Ford. That went on for too long for me to ever consider your products.

    GMC lost me with the worse-than-deplorable warranty coverage (non-coverage, actually) with the truck I bought just to assist the “home team.”

    By default, next vehicle will be an “import,” however that is defined anymore.

    Honda, Mazda, Toyota…. one of those will be the next conveyance I buy for a back-up abode if the mini-depression continues and I can no longer offord the shanty’s rent.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Toyota and Honda’s big edge is that they have both become “the car to drive.” People go and buy them just because they know that with a Toyota or Honda badge, they will get a reliable car that holds its value. Very few of their products set the blood pumping. Ford is working towards that. With quality improvements, safety improvements, and Consumer Reports recommendations Ford is working towards that space. If Ford can get that consumer mindspace, then add the exciting styling and features of the upcoming products and Ford will be just fine. Ford still has a loyal base, they can build from there.

  • avatar

    dwford :

    You’re waffling, in a way that’s frightening reminiscent of Ford’s shotgun non-marketing efforts.

    As I said in the editorial, Toyota owns the reliability mindspace. While a Ford should be reliable, there is NO WAY they’re going to snatch that crown from the King of Corolla.

    Exciting styling? Better. Much better. But Ford has shown zero talent for it. As in none. And as much as pistonheads adore Euro chic, I’m not convinced Ford’s imported designs will cut the proverbial mustard.

    Safety. Yes. With Volvo out of the picture, why not? Fear is always a sure thing. And remember: the cars don’t have to be significantly safer than the competition. They just have to be perceived that way.

    In any case, it’s called a unique selling point ’cause it’s unique. But also, implied, singular. As in one.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Ford currently sells
    – Escape
    – Edge
    – Taurus X
    – Explorer
    – Expedition
    – Flex
    – Explorer Sport Trac

    They could make do with the Edge and the Taurus X. Maybe one more if one is generous. It’s absurd to have all these models in the same showroom. I am not saying any of them suck, I am just saying they are left to whither on the vine. I have never, ever seen a commercial for the Taurus X for example.

    They make do with a small, medium, large and a sporty car all of which put in a respectable showing.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    Bubba,

    They’re no more intertwined than Honda and Toyota. As long as Ford manages to maintain an image of a car maker in good shape, they’re golden, IMO. Expect their credit rating to rise in the coming months.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Alex
    I work for GM engineering and My relatives work for Ford engineering and Chrysler Engineering. Trust me we have had plenty of discussions. I speak from a point of relativity most people do not have access to.
    If you believe what you wrote you are Naive.
    Jus saying

  • avatar
    postjosh

    seoultrain :
    For now, Ford as a brand = American

    i’m with seoultrain. ‘merican is the brand positioning that’s currently open and i think people will buy based on that emotional appeal, if the advertising positions it right. this is of course absurd when you consider that ford is in fact quite global.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Alex I speak from a point of relativity
    I have family who work for Ford Engineering and Chrysler Engineering and I work for GM engineering. We have had plenty of discussions and if you knew the truth of intertwining you would be battoning down your financial hatches.

    You don’t have to believe me< I understand. People didn’t believe the mortgage meltdown but I saw it at least 6 months before it happened and slid my 401K into cash as I watched the uninformed watch 50 to 70% of their 401K’s disappear.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    One of Ford’s (and Chevy’s) biggest obstacles is Hyundai/Kia. They’ve established themselves as the “value” proposition on the bottom of the brand/prestige ladder. And the import brands are squeezing from above.

    This is what is really hurting Opel and Ford in Europe; everybody that can possibly afford it wants a brand with more prestige than an Opel or Ford; if they cant afford it, they can find better bargains with Dacia, Skoda, or the Koreans.

    Ford’s handsome and excellent Mondeo is not selling well at all; Opel’s Insignia is going to follow in its tracks. They might be terrific, but folks at this price point want a propeller, three-pointed star, or the interlocking rings on their car.

    As Americans head further down this road, Ford (and GM) will face the same “prestige squeeze”. Wouldn’t most younger aspirational drivers rather have an Audi A3 (or A1) than a (euro) Ford in the driveway?

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    For the short term, Ford’s best bet is to sell to peoples’ emotions. Every other marketable niche (quality, reliability, value) has been claimed.

    The current Ford lineup has a lot going for it. Yes, there have been major problems in the past, but things have changed. Manufacturing and engineering, specifically, finally figured out that trading good design for profit margin doesn’t make for a very happy customer. This really is a different company.

    Forget about carving a niche right now. Get people into the showroom, then let the cars speak for themselves. How? Make them remember the cars with a quirky ad (e.g. VW’s talking Beetle), a catchy song (e.g. that damn Mazda zoom zoom song), or a really good commercial (e.g. that Cadillac CTS ad with the hot doctor from Grey’s Anatomy that asks if your car turns you on. One of the best ads ever, in my book.)

    Warning: typical guy comment below

    Cars are like women. She could be the smartest, most fun, best cooking girl on the planet. If you aren’t emotionally into her, you won’t care. Make Ford cars attractive, appeal to our emotions. People will buy them.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Bubba Gump: “I have family who work for Ford Engineering and Chrysler Engineering and I work for GM engineering.”

    Ah, an insider! So can you explain why D3 four cylinder engines aren’t as silky as Honda’s? And how and why Detroit has had repeated fiascoes with bad head gaskets? And whether my transmission shop’s owner is right when he says car makers knowingly make transmissions that’ll blow up at 60,000 miles?

  • avatar
    becurb

    Robert Farago :

    Venza. And you’re right: same mistake. The only real ifference is that Toyota can afford to make stupid ass branding mistakes and lame-brained product overlap (FJ huh?).

    I am not sure that I would consider the FJ Cruiser a lame-brained product overlap.

    I believe Toyota was attempting to regain some of the “off road cred” that they killed with the bloating and leathering of the Land Cruiser, as well as the “siffy-fication” of the 4Runner and Tacoma.

    The FJ-40 was a respected, go damn near anywhere vehicle. The Toyota truck was as well, before it got IFS, etc. Ditto the 4Runner.

    I think the FJ Cruiser, with a plastic/rubber floor and water resistant seats, is an attempt to gain some of what Toyota has lost to the off-road crowd. Not the hard-core crowd, certainly, as the FJC has IFS. But, more the crowd that takes dirt roads to the beach, mountains, etc., and aren’t afraid of a little sand, mud, etc. in their vehicles.

    Now, you would be justified to comment that their timing was terrible, and wonder if it means the end for the 4Runner, Land Cruiser or Sequoia (I suspect LC – I understand sales of that thing have plummeted). Still, I applaud the tacit admission that Toyota recognizes their “losing the way” with tarted up products that do not lend themselves to exposure to “the elements”.

    And, yeah, the FJ Cruiser has some work ahead of it. A vehicle with such poor visibility is no good off road.

    Bruce

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    Unqualified generalization #1:
    “can you explain why D3 four cylinder engines aren’t as silky as Honda’s?”

    No doubt Honda makes a great 4-banger. The D3 have some good offerings as well.

    Unqualified generalization #2:
    “And how and why Detroit has had repeated fiascoes with bad head gaskets?”

    Be specific about a platform, and we can explain why it failed. Yes, our designs sometimes have problems. Part of our job is also to diagnose and fix them.

    Unqualified generalization #3:
    “And whether my transmission shop’s owner is right when he says car makers knowingly make transmissions that’ll blow up at 60,000 miles?”

    He’s wrong. There’s no data to back that up. Just because the guy is a mechanic doesn’t mean his opinion should be taken as gold.

    Failures happen, sometimes due to poor design or excessive cost-shaving. Nobody tries to build a bad car. Quit propagating the myth that Detroit is out to screw people over. It’s ignorant, dangerous, and just plain wrong.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    50merc:
    And whether my transmission shop’s owner is right when he says car makers knowingly make transmissions that’ll blow up at 60,000 miles?

    60K is about when the warranty ends?!?

    I’ve heard slushbox life is very much effected by how people drive. The “reverse to drive slam” and other abusive behavior is more common with the domestic driving demographic.

    On the plus side, I’ve never heard of ANY manual tranny or clutch going before 100K, even with abuse.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    50Merc–

    Can you explain to me why every Asian automobile shakes while idling?

    Especially in-gear, and with the A/C on.

    I’ve never been in a 4-cylinder Asian automobile that idled as well as a domestic at stoplights. Personally, I get that sinking feeling like the car’s going to break-down. It’s amplified exponentially when you need to use the rear defroster.

  • avatar

    Has she been downsized?

    That would require a plastic surgeon. Frankly, I think they look real, and spectacular too.

  • avatar

    I hate Lincoln’s three letter branding. I’m not sure if it was the MKZ or the MKS, but when the concept was first shown, the publicity materials called it a MkS as in Mark S. It rolled off the tongue much easier than Em Kay Ess, and evokes a legendary brand name, the Continental Mark II through Mark VIII (which I’ve always thought was a great looking car). Unfortunately, the Ford marketing crew think that names like Continental and Mark evoke images of luxoboats.

    In any case, Lincoln needs a big sedan. My brother in law is 6’5″ and has driven Lincolns for a long time (my sister drives a MKX and loves it) but he couldn’t fit in a MKZ so he bought a Cadillac DTS which will get replaced by a MKS as soon as the lease on the Caddy is up.

    BTW, they’re both public school teachers. Tell me how underpaid teachers are.

  • avatar

    The brand is all.

    Nah, you’re just into brands. The product makes the brand, not vice versa. Without substance behind it, the brand is just shiny wrapping paper. Toyota’s brand stands for something. It’s not the brand that’s reliable, it’s their cars.

    Robert, I know you’re a disciple of Ries, per et fille, but have either of them ever actually made and sold a real product?

    Her comments about it being a bad idea for Kodak to be getting into digital photography because the brand supposedly means film ignores the fact that for a good deal of it’s life, the company was more associated with cameras than film. What should they do, just disappear? I’m sure that at least one or two buggy whip companies turned themselves into auto accessory manufacturers. The early Kodak cameras were sealed units and the customer returned the entire camera for processing. The prints would be returned with a reloaded camera.

    It’s ironic that she takes on Kodak because Eastman practically invented modern brands with a nonsense word that he thought would be more distinctive than Eastman.

    Companies remake themselves all the time. If I say DuPont, most people think about stuff made from chemicals, like paint, carpet fibers, countertops and housewrap. Hardly anybody knows that for the first 110 years of its existence, DuPont was a gunpowder and explosives company.

    Brand isn’t all. Product is almost all. I say almost because a good product can sometimes be Betamaxed. Hell, Apple had Sony’s fight with JVC (whose American corporate antecedent had it’s own titanic “format war” with Edison – JVC stands for Japan Victor Corp.) as an example and they still let Jobs’ ego prevent them from licensing out their operating system.

    A business needs it all to thrive, good marketing, effective branding, etc. But the foundation is product.

  • avatar

    Bubba Gump,

    You included Dow but forgot DuPont. Old E.I. will take a huge hit. The auto industry is still its #1 market. At any one time, each of the car companies owes DuPont millions and millions, and the vendors in the supply chain maybe more.

    If the domestics go under, Wilmington will be hit hard and not just because the Solstice/Sky plant will close or Chrysler’s Newark plant won’t reopen.

  • avatar

    A Web search reveals a HUGE number of folks confronted by spark plugs launched into the atmosphere.

    Let’s see. Using Google I searched for [Ford V8 spark plugs eject] and got 1180 results and {Ford V8 spark plugs ejecting] got 1320. In both cases only a minority were about spark plug thread failure on cylinder heads. A quick look at the first 100 results shows that way fewer than half were about self-ejecting spark plugs. Putting aside the fact that putting thread inserts in 8 cylinders shouldn’t cost anywhere near $1000 bucks, or the guy who was complaining that his 1999 pickup with 170K miles might have already gotten his money’s worth, I’ll concede that Ford may have a design problem on some of its V8 aluminum heads. Tool companies make specialty tools for that specific problem with Ford heads so obviously they’ve had a problem.

    But let’s compare that to another search.

    A Google search of [Toyota engine sludge] yields 25,800 results. Virtually all of them are about problems with Toyota engines, a problem that has already cost Toyota a billion dollars or so in recalls, repairs, and settlements on class action lawsuits.

    Perhaps in your part of the universe 2,500 is HUGE compared to 25,000.

    You might also want to try a search on [Honda “transmission problem”]. I got over 87,000 results on that one.

    In my part of the universe, 87,000 and 25,000 are much bigger numbers than 2,500. More HUGE, one might say. Of course, your mileage and your perception may vary. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but like Senator Moynihan famously said, they’re not entitled to their own set of facts.

    Robert, I guess it’s bad form to mention the word “perception” when it comes to how some people feel about the Detroit 3. Okay. How about delusional?

    I’m not denying that Detroit has made some crap cars, but in a lot of cases the level of anger with Detroit and studied ignorance of consumer issues with non-US brands makes me think that to some people, Detroit’s motes are more troublesome than Toyota’s beams.

    I think posts like the one above amply demonstrate how steep and high the hill is that Detroit must climb to overcome some consumers’ attitudes.

    Either that or some of the transplant companies have picked up a few tips on astroturfing from David Axelrod.

    Speaking of consumer issues, ATT U-Verse sucks. The least reliable broadband service I’ve ever had. Even though we’re less than 700 feet from the fiber drop and less than 1/2 mile from the ATT switch, a few times a day I get “can’t find the server” errors and sometimes, like just now, it won’t work for a while. Since our tv and phone service is on the same optical fiber, that means no phone or boob tube either. When I call ATT and tell them that I’ve been a LAN manager and can tell when it’s a network issue, they insist the modem shows no reported errors.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    obbop :
    December 1st, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    When “Ford” appears in print or heard I think of the many thousands of folks telling of the spark plugs popping out of their V8 engine and paying many hundreds or thousands of dollars for repair.

    When I think of Ford, I think of a line somebody said somewhere on the internets (I think it may have been a poster here):

    “Fords are not known for not catching on fire.”

    This goes from the Pinto all the way to the F-150 cruise control switch. However, their current line up seems to be almost up to Toyota’s level of quality and reliability, especially their cars. Things seem to have changed recently.

    Now, they just have to keep that up for a decade or two. Toyota and Honda didn’t end up on top overnight.

  • avatar
    CeeDragon

    Brand Principles 101:

    Strong Brands have (1) strong business basics, (2) a great brand experience when the product/service is used and (3) clear and distinct positioning so there is no confusion about what the brand stands for.

    Brands with strong identities and equity perform about twice as well as brands with weak equity. (Performance is based on the S&P 500 stock index)

    There are several aspects of a consumer’s relationship with a brand… all the way from being aware of it to closely bonding with it.

    The challenge for the domestics is that they’ve failed on all aspects of their brand. Their business basics are poor, products are poor, and there is no clear/realistic message about what their products are. There is so much negative equity with their brand as many people have said (“I’ll never buy a GM/Ford/Dodge again”).

  • avatar
    geeber

    windswords: Of course taxpayer money will help, but I keep asking is Congress going to give money to a company that is for all intent and purposes controlled by a single family? Maybe the public won’t care after all the money given to banks with little or no debate and oversight.

    At this point, the Ford family has a much better reputation than any large financial institution. Plus, unlike the banks, Ford the company has drafted a reasonable and realistic turnaround plan.

    Another important factor is that William Clay Ford, Jr., has good relations with both President-elect Obama and the UAW. If they don’t make any noise about the Ford family’s continued control of the company – and the UAW actually supports it – then I doubt that Congress will make much of a fuss over it.

  • avatar
    50merc

    I should explain why I asked about rough-running four-pots (e.g., from GM and Chrysler), leaky head gaskets (GM and Ford) and early failure of automatic transmissions (certain models from Chrysler, Ford and GM). I didn’t mean to be accusative; I was merely curious why the D3’s designs fell short. My understanding is that Ford had a problem with spark plug ejection on a particular V8 design because of fewer threads than usual. My guess for the “why” is that Ford tried to save money and weight by making heads with less metal. Am I right?

    So I’m hoping that someone in the know can explain what happened. For example, with respect to head gasket failure, I suppose the manufacturers may have tried cheaper gaskets, or didn’t machine the block and heads smooth enough, or hotter-running engines led to warping that stressed gaskets, or maybe some other factor.

    It’s been said no one deliberately sets out to make a bad movie. Similarly, I’m sure Detroit wants happy customers. So how did it happen that, say, Chevy’s reputation is much worse than Toyota’s?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Using Google I searched for [Ford V8 spark plugs eject] and got 1180 results and {Ford V8 spark plugs ejecting] got 1320. In both cases only a minority were about spark plug thread failure on cylinder heads.

    The US has a population of around 300 million. India has a population of about 1 billion.

    Type [india population] into Google and you get 1.2 million hits. Enter [“united states” population] into Google, and you get 70.4 million hits.

    As you can see, this misuse of “Google logic” would lead us to believe that the US has population of 59 billion people or that India has a population of 5 million, depending upon where you begin to make the mistake.

    Using a count of Google hits proves nothing. Never, never use this argument for anything, other than to show that it makes no sense, as I have.

    The Toyota sludge story is widely reported. It was an engineering error, no arguments there. Toyota handled it poorly, without a doubt.

    But it has affected few vehicles. And the fact that the Detroit Defenders bring it up incessantly shows how little material that they have to work with.

    If the only retort that the 2.8 fans have is to harp on one specific defect that affected just a few owners with one particular engine, then you know that the argument is poor.

    Meanwhile, the exploding tires, gas tank barbeques, destructive DexCool and the rest are all blown off or swept under the rug. You would think from the commentary that engine sludge from a transplant is the only automotive defect that the world has ever seen, when we know better.

    The perpetual “D” students don’t earn brownie points when the “A” student has a bad day. If you want to earn better grades, the product needs to improve. Hoping and praying that the other guy screws up is not much of a strategy.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Ford’s brand is that it is an iconic american maker of cars and trucks. Simple as that. I believe that the concept of branding is overblown. Remember GM’s shot at “brand management” run by the hotshot from Proctor & Gamble back in the 80s? Everyone knew what the brands were. Pontiac was the performance brand. It sold the vanilla GM platform with plastic body cladding and red instrument lighting. Great brand, disappointing product.

    Ford was always in a different situation from GM and Chrysler. From the beginning, it had no significant brand other than Ford. Thus, every new product of any importance was a Ford. Thunderbird. Falcon. Mustang. Taurus. Explorer. Expedition. By the 90s, Ford was a credible entrant in 95% of the market, from economy cars all the way to $45k Expeditions.

    Toyota’s brand is no more than a well-deserved reputation. A single car company that started at the low end and grew to blanket all but the high end market. Always with quality. It then completed the process with Lexus. If Ford can slay the quality dragon (and it appears that it is at least moving in that direction) Ford can build a reputation/brand the same way. Ford’s advantage over its domestic competitors is that it is not saddled with so many useless “brands”.

    In the 30s, GM’s multiple brands were the key to dominance. Today, the model is the Toyota/Lexus 2 brand approach. (Scion seems to me the beginning of the GMing of Toyota) Ford is closest to the modern standard of market coverage. Ford needs to do 3 things, none of them easy.
    1. Quality, quality, quality. Not just the new car quality that makes you feel good in the showroom, but 150k mile quality for bodies, electronics and running gear (fwd transmissions, anyone?). This is why Toyota and Honda have such great resale and need comparative little discounting. This is where Ford needs to work hardest, as this has been its biggest problem area, in my view.
    2. Product, product, product. Attractive, capable and high-content models in popular segments of the market will bring buyers. It’s all about value. This has traditionally been Ford’s strong suit, going back to the 60s.
    3. Do something with Lincoln. Lexus started at scratch 20 years ago with a single top end model. Stop the GM style badge-engineering and develop a top-flight luxury sedan platform. Lincoln has done this before. Following the serial disasters that were Lincoln in the 1950s, FoMoCo designed a genuine luxury contender in 1961. This vehicle and its successor propelled Lincoln all through the 60s and 70s as a genuine leader in the class. The benchmarks have changed, but the task is the same.
    So, forget the branding. Design and build the right cars, do it well, and the Ford and Lincoln brands will sparkle.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Re: Ford engines spitting spark plugs

    Citing the number of search engine hits as an indicator of the actual probability of X happening the in the world is naiive. For example, search terms affect results greatly. And, of course, number of web sites does not translate to number of incidents.

    Here is a better way to gauge if this is a significant problem.

    A quick search on “ford spark plugs V8 pop out”
    brings up:

    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/ford_spark.html

    The frequency of new complaints would seem to provide an indication of the problem incidence. I’d judge that one or more new complaints a day is significant considering this is one website and the probability someone will find the website and complain. Obviously, there are many Fords out there so the rate per vehicle may still be quite small, but what is striking here is the failure mode. How many of us have ever heard of a vehicle throwing spark plugs? It does sound like bad design, and the range/age of vehicles involved leads one to think this is a problem Ford never bothered to address.

    As for the comment (‘…they got their money’s worth..’), should one expect the mean mileage to failure for the head of an engine to be 170,000 miles? If so, this does not give me confidence the engine, and by extension the entire vehicle, is well engineered.

    How to (rapidly) convince people of the new reliability of D3 iron

    The D3 might do well to bolster their claims of improved reliability by providing data on the designed (and tested) MTBF of the major components of the car. Show the history of improvement. For the TTAC crowd, just tell us the (designed) acceptable failure rate of major subsystems (engine, transmission, etc.) during warranty and we can work out the probable failure rate after warranty. If D3 is engineering and building as well as the Japanese, etc., then challenge other car makers to provide the same data. Make it a point in your advertising.

    Until then, people will judge how far a car will go without major failure by their direct and anecdotal experience of car makes. The D3 is more than a little burdened by customer’s past experience. Is it not reasonable for people to assume D3 engines, transmissions and other components are designed to make it past warranty and not much further?

    Yes, this is a radical suggestion, Such data is a closely held secret and is ‘competition sensitive’. That said, it is time to do something radical and if a key point in getting people to consider your vehicles is to convince them things really have changed, hard data stands at least a chance of working. The D3 need to convince people they are making reliable vehicles now. They don’t have the luxury of proving it over ten/twenty years.

    Michael

  • avatar
    Hippo

    How about “America’s safest cars”

    Easy when they never leave the show room.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Ford = American. It’s as simple as that

    No, and I’ll tell you why: patriotic fatigue on one hand and further questions asked on the other .

    So many shoddy organizations and plans have attempted to play the patriotism card that, for a company to resort to it in modern times, they have to be either ignorant, stupid and/or desperate. The flag is a fall-back position when your plan or product has nothing else to recommend it.

    The flag is now code for “substandard product trying to appeal to mouth-breathing nationalists”, especially in the more lucrative markets. The automakers themselves are responsible for wrecking the value of America as a brand: “it may be sloppy, cheap or low-quality, but at least it’s American!” practically defined Detroit marketing for the last quarter-century.

    Two: saying “American” begs the question of what exactly does it mean to be American, in relation to a product? To give a recent example, I was in a toy store looking for a trike for my son, and the owner was pushing me on how one model was better because it was made in Germany. Now, because I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with Volkswagen and Mercedes in the past, this didn’t endear me, but for most people it’s sufficient.

    What does it mean to be made in Japan? Korea? How about China or Malaysia? Now, how about “American”? The only people it’s going work on are the static (or declining) sales that they’ve already got. It doesn’t mean anything with relation to the product, or if it does, it doesn’t mean anything good.

    America has no brand equity. Inside America it was destroyed by the companies that raped it’s image; outside it was destroyed by American government over the past eight years, though Barack Obama’s done wonders for American foreign relations and he’s not even been elected yet. Maybe Detroit needs to license Barack’s “Change” theme?

    Back on topic: Product is king, not brand, not marketing. Much as it pains marketing people to admit this, you can only sell crap for so long, no matter how good your plan it, before it catches up to you. Then you’ve the unenviable task of trying to fix your market image that you wrecked by promising way more than you could deliver.

    Mercedes et al are going to find that out very, very soon.

  • avatar
    ionosphere

    Brands don’t really have any significance? For example, why is Corvette a Chevrolet instead of a Pontiac, when Chevrolet is supposed to be the budget brand and Pontiac the sporty? And there’s no difference between Mercury and Ford brands. And Saturn has the same cars as Chevrolet, as did Geo when they existed.

  • avatar

    Meanwhile, the exploding tires, gas tank barbeques, destructive DexCool and the rest are all blown off or swept under the rug. You would think from the commentary that engine sludge from a transplant is the only automotive defect that the world has ever seen, when we know better.

    “The only automotive defect”? I cited two examples, Toyota engine sludge and Honda transmissions. I guess in a universe where 2,500 is HUGE compared to 25,000 or 80,000 two examples count as “the only”.

    I certainly didn’t try to sweep anything under the rug. If you actually read my comment you’d see that I said that if specialty tool companies sell tools to fix this specific problem with Ford spark plugs, then obviously Ford has a measurable problem.

    As for the methodological shortcomings of using Google results to prove a point, it’s admittedly a shorthand approach, but if you actually bothered to try to see my point instead of reflexively bashing Detroit defenders, you would see that I was responding to someone who said, “A Web search reveals a HUGE number of folks confronted by spark plugs launched into the atmosphere.” He then went on to say that Ford’s spark plug problem is a reason why he’ll buy a Honda or Toyota next time.

    There’s a form of Talmudic debate called k’shitatcha, according to your opinion. It’s not a tu quoque argument, akin to saying that Toyota or Honda are just as bad as Ford. It applies a debater’s own logic or methodology to their own position. He was the one who used a web search to prove his point.

    I simply applied his own methodology to see if Ford had a HUGE problem relative to the transplants. If you have a problem with using web searches to determine the number of consumers with a specific problem, take it up with the above poster, not me.

  • avatar

    michaelC,

    Would you suggest that restaurants publicize stats that show that 99% of their employees wash their hands after using the bathroom?

    If D3 is engineering and building as well as the Japanese, etc., then challenge other car makers to provide the same data. Make it a point in your advertising.

    Quality stats are indeed one of the key points in Ford’s Drive One campaign. Do they include the proprietary data you’d like to see? No, but then Toyota and Honda don’t publicize that data either.

    The D3 might do well to bolster their claims of improved reliability by providing data on the designed (and tested) MTBF of the major components of the car. Show the history of improvement.

    Detroit can’t win. Showing a “history of improvement” will be spun as “Detroit made crap in the past and we’re skeptical that the improvements are lasting”.

    Since this thread is about rebranding, how about if General Motors ditches the name GM? In a market where more people know about Britney Spears than know who lost World War II, a market where buyers of Hyundais consider them because of Japanese reputation for quality, who knows, maybe killing the GM brand might make sense.

    Stranger things have happened. Trini & Carmen’s is thriving, 30 years after poisoning more than 50 customers.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Well, I have to admit it’s hard for Ford to come up with a good marketing tag line for its vehicles. Their cars and trucks aren’t the best in any particular characteristic such as quality or resale value.

    So how about this:

    “Ford put the world on wheels.”

    Yeah, it may appeal mostly to lovers of automotive history like Menno and me. But you gotta admit, it’s something no other maker can honestly say.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Ronnie,

    (Acknowledging this not about banding per se and so is off-topic…)

    While I disagree the employee hand washing example is relevant, I accept your point it is difficult to advertise reality because most people have a hard time understanding statistics and will draw the wrong conclusions. We know risk adversity is a basic bias, and people will amplify the risk implicit in a statistical measure.

    Re: MTBF design criteria

    It’s true that Honda, Toyota (and everyone) does not provide this information, but they do not have a reputation for poor reliability.

    Re: Detroit can’t win. Must they acknowledge they made poor vehicles in the past?

    The D3 has more or less continually acknowledged they have produced poor vehicles in the past. The recent comments from the top executives that things are much improved are rife. But this has been going on for years. Sticking with Ford, acknowledging they have not been so good in the past has been a consistent subtext to some of their more memorable advertising campaigns. Remember ‘Quality is job one’; ‘Have you driven a Ford, lately?’? Saying they have really caught up in the last couple of years comes against a long history of having claimed to have made amends on quality and reliability.

    Re: D3 is dealing with quality perception problem

    And what quality measures is Ford pointing to? JD Powers initial quality? The D3 can certainly continue to keep secret the real numbers and play the game of claiming to have improved. This has been the MO for years. The problem is most former customers (and those who have never been customers) will wait until direct and anecdotal experience convinces them the reliability of a D3 vehicle is equal to that of Toyota, Honda etc. I can see no evidence to think the D3 is even close right now across their product lines. If you have numbers – or some other compelling evidence (say warranty claims) – I’d love to see the data.

    The fact of the matter is that the D3 will be long dead or irrelevant by the time they can demonstrate they are equal to other world class auto manufacturers using the usual indicators of reliability customers find compelling:
    – personal experience,
    – anecdotal facts, and
    – resale value.
    As has been remarked many times, the D3 have been digging this hole for over 25 years. It will take 10 to reverse that situation if they were equal to the competition today.

    Again, some dramatic move to link their products and reliability is needed. If they aren’t desperate enough to tell the truth (at least to an audience that knows how to interpret the truth), perhaps a 100,000 mile comprehensive warranty or a guaranteed resale value program would do the trick.

    The point that Toyota or Honda would not do something like this is correct. But then, they have invested in a reputation for quality products over many years. The D3 have not. The consequences have arrived and the D3 must do something dramatic to answer the quality ‘perception’ problem.

    Michael

  • avatar
    michaelC

    re: Those Ford spark plugs

    Ronnie,

    Forget the number of search hits. I provided a link to a site where people (one or more per day) have recorded their experience with spark plugs being thrown out of the head. The cost of repair is high.

    I take the frequency of complaints to be an indication this is a significant issue. It looks to be a design issue.

    I did not look through the entire thread — it is quite long — but there is large range of years involved (a number of late ’90s, but the latest I saw was 2005 model year). So this can be taken as evidence Ford did not correct the design issue for some time (and perhaps has not yet corrected the issue).

    How is it unreasonable for someone to conclude they should not buy a product from a company with a long-running design defect? One that they apparently refuse to acknowledge, leaving the customer on the hook.

    If a company already has a shaky reputation, exactly how does this situation keep existing customers and attract new ones?

    Michael

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Apropos of nothing whatever, and it doesn’t really mean jack shit, but I’d like to thank Farago et al and the best and brightest for the reportage and comment/debate during this crisis-driven news cycle. It is exciting to see such real-world and relevant topics bandied about so thoroughly, and with such respect….if there is a future for the D2.05, it may be because they are reading this site. Thanks all.

  • avatar
    Honda_Lover

    Google searches:

    [Ford transmission problem] -1,070,000
    [Chrysler transmission problem] – 661,000
    [Honda transmission problem] – 917,000

  • avatar

    michaelC,

    Clearly there’s a problem with aluminum Ford heads. I just got off the phone with a guy who offers an on location repair service, with a warranty, because the dealers want so much for the repair.
    http://www.pgsparkplugrepair.com/home

    Having worked in r&d for a tier 1 supplier, I won’t necessarily hold a design flaw against a company, particularly if they make good on the repairs (unless it’s a particularly stupid or greedy mistake). I doubt Ford wants self-ejecting spark plugs. People say the problem is too few threads, 5, for the plugs but I’ve always been told that three threads are all that is needed for maximum torque, so my guess is that plugs are being installed with improper torque. In every industry the technology is almost always pushed to the limit. Customers, industrial and consumer alike, want faster, stronger, better and sometimes the technology ends up at the limits of the performance envelope. You do the best you can, but nothing’s perfect in the world. A former coworker of mine was killed on the job when a 2.5 ton mold half fell off the molding machine and crushed him as he stood in the cavity doing some kind of service on the machine.

    It was one of the largest injection molding machines in the world at the time, virtually one of a kind. The molds were bolted in and torqued down to proper specifications. Nobody knew, however, that at the high levels of pressure used to inject the melted plastic the molds were warping slightly, stretching the bolts. When the pressure was released, the slightly longer bolts were no longer torqued properly and they eventually walked themselves out. The mold fell off and he was pinned to the floor. From the chest up he looked okay. His wife worked for the company too and it was tragic. I’m sure she got a big settlement to avoid a wrongful death lawsuit, but she never blamed either our employer or the company that made the molding press. Like I said, limits of technology. Stuff happens.

    Fortunately, most of the time when stuff happens, nobody gets killed.

    As I see it the villains here are the dealers who try to sell a completely new head when there are specialty tools and parts that can fix it in situ.

    The guy I linked to above will travel to your vehicle and fix it for less than most dealers will charge.

    A customer with a fixed problem is often more loyal than one without a problem in the first place. Ford should have a program for fixing the threads with an insert and charge only cost for out of warranty repairs to the heads.

  • avatar

    Yeah, it may appeal mostly to lovers of automotive history like Menno and me. But you gotta admit, it’s something no other maker can honestly say.

    50merc,

    I’d love to see TTAC include an automotive history heading. You’re not the only person who enjoys the history of industry. The Henry Ford Museum is one of my favorite places.

    The auto industry has a long history. Along with some great successes there were huge mistakes. Nobody seems to have learned anything from them. How many great ideas have been tried only to be hamstrung by inadequate development and later implemented successfully by others?

    Speaking of history, did you know that the same guy, Frederick Wm Lanchester, invented both caliper disc brakes and fuel injection? The guy was a flat out genius.

  • avatar

    [Ford transmission problem] -1,070,000
    [Chrysler transmission problem] – 661,000
    [Honda transmission problem] – 917,000

    Honda lover, my first thoughts on seeing those figures are:
    1) Considering the POS 604 transmission from Chrysler I’m surprised there weren’t more hits.
    2) Considering that Ford and Chrysler have sold a lot more vehicles than Honda, it looks like the house of Soichiro has some tranny problems, and I’m not talking about some guy named Hideo wearing a kimono.

  • avatar

    While I disagree the employee hand washing example is relevant, I accept your point it is difficult to advertise reality because most people have a hard time understanding statistics and will draw the wrong conclusions. We know risk adversity is a basic bias, and people will amplify the risk implicit in a statistical measure.

    I once conceptually designed an employee hand washing monitoring system. Putting a sign up reminding them to wash their hands, something I’ve alway found a little unsettling as a patron, does nothing. You need metric to be able to improve. At the same time, it’s not wise to share some of those metrics with the public. The public wants 0 colonies of fecal coliform in the petri dish.

    Sticking with Ford, acknowledging they have not been so good in the past has been a consistent subtext to some of their more memorable advertising campaigns.

    That’s endemic in Detroit. Cf. That’s a Saturn? That thing got a HEMI?

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I drove Fords for years, as did my family. Then we all were screwed by head gaskets and transmissions in the 3.8L V6 power train. I’m talking about thousands of dollars in repairs out of pocket for cars we already paid thousands for in the first place. We did not feel we got our money’s worth out of the cars, the engineering clearly was faulty. Though not as faulty as the company sticking all of us with the bill.

    So don’t ask me to drive one, I already did and now I drive foreign. Next car will be foreign. is that unpatriotic? Not as much as screwing the American consumer with faulty designs and then spending the profits overseas buying companies. Looks like they provided plenty of jobs for non-Americans. Let those that work for Ford ( and GM Cry-sler) overseas bail these companies out. Then they can buy more assets over there. While they are at it move their headquarters out of the US so they don’t stick their hands in our pockets anymore.

    The one thing missing in the 2.8 plans is customer willingness to take a chance and spend thousands of dollars again on their products. Even if they are reliable and fuel efficient, the resale value bites you in the ass. I don’t have any more charity to give them. My Hyundai has retained more value the last 4 years than any Ford I ever owned.

    They can’t fix this problem.

  • avatar
    Dr. No

    After perusing some of the comments and articles, I’m reminded of Spiro Agnew’s famous words: Nattering Nabobs of Negativism.

    I have not in my life read, watched or listened to so much negative press. It’s gas on a fire. Keep it up and we’ll all go back to buck skins and knives. Together.

    Clearly, Ford has work to do. As they all do. Mulally gets one thing: I was 10 feet from him last week in a speech, and he clearly knows that PRODUCT is king. Have you seen the new Mustang GT? I am tempted, and I haven’t owned a Ford in over 20 years. Too bad there isn’t an endless supply of baby boomers.

    It’s a start. I want the Big 3 to make it. Seems like I’m in a distinct minority here. Sad.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Dr. No…..

    most of us have wanted the Detroit (no longer Big) 2.05 to “make it” as well….we just don’t see how, as currently managed, with the exception of Ford, they can. And we don’t see how pouring money down a rat hole will prevent the failures….

  • avatar
    George B

    I like 50merc’s tag line “Ford put the world on wheels.” I visited the Henry Ford Museum in August on vacation and enjoyed it. However, other than than the Mustang and the blue oval itself, I can’t think of an iconic Ford design that translates well to a 21st century high volume car. Ford already pushed the limits of patriotism with their excellent “Anthem” ad for the 2005 Mustang.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88UjLPMW4Gw

    Regarding misgivings about quality, Hyundai and Volkswagen both offered extended warantee coverage to help bring customers back. I own a 99 Honda Accord with the automatic with many failures. Honda extended warantee coverage to 7 years and 100k miles and replaced many transmissions for free. Not good, but at least customers didn’t feel “burned” by the experience.

    Maybe Ford should shift their fleet sales to the almost dead Mercury brand. One problem with Fords is poor resale value in part due to cars Hertz, etc. dump into the used car market.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Re: Reliability and design

    Ronnie,

    You make a good point about designing an implementation of a technology. ‘Stuff happens’ is a deep truth (For those who may doubt that, consider the opposite statement for a moment and reflect on your view of the World if that were true).

    Systems in the real world are more complex than the systems we can model in the design process. Failures always have a statistical component and it is, as a practical matter, impossible to test long-tail situations. The story about your friend’s death reminded me of a similar situation in my extended family.

    Many customers are willing to accept ‘stuff happens’ with some grumbling (and it is a rare person that does not grumble when bad luck arrives) if they feel it really was out of the control of the manufacturer. It seems quite plausible the proximate cause for head failure (and flying spark plugs) is improperly torqued spark plugs. I have no idea how the specified torque range compares with other engines and whether it is a reasonable expectation for real-world maintainers of vehicles — including the shade tree mechanic — to comply. It could be that Ford’s engineers in effect demanded more precision on a common procedure than the average mechanic was likely to deliver.

    If so, is that a design flaw? I don’t know. A car as a system is more than its components — maintenance, available fuel, etc. are all part of it. Fussy vehicles, like some women exotics, come to be known through their reputation for maintenance and are embraced, or not, with awareness a particularly knowledgeable and precise mechanic is required. The Ford brand, whatever it is, certainly does not have (or want) that feature.

    If cost constraints on engineers have forced them to designs that have little tolerance for ‘errors’, then I think there is a profound point about the expected reliability of the entire vehicle. Mercedes was, not so long ago, famous for reliability because they were ‘overdesigned’. Many TTACers might agree that reputation is fading fast, if not already gone, because the drei-starr found they could make more money by cutting out the ‘overengineering’.

    I remember Detroit in the 60s and 70s as not having such a reputation for sophistication or ‘excitement’ as compared to European brands. MGBs were far cooler than Mustangs. Rather it was that they were more reliable and sensible because they were not designed to the limit.

    Of course the sad point is that then, being designed to the limit always had the implication that it was to the limit of performance, not the lowest cost to manufacture.

    So, to summarize this off-topic discussion about reliability in a branding thread, I think we have come around to considering how perceptions of product reliability qua ‘design flaws’ may be an important part of the brand identity.

    Best,

    Michael

  • avatar
    geeber

    merc50: So how about this:

    “Ford put the world on wheels.”

    Good idea. That brings back memories of Henry Ford I, the Model T, and what Ford did to make the automobile accessible to the common man (and woman).

    michaelC: And what quality measures is Ford pointing to? JD Powers initial quality?

    Consumer Reports and Michael Karesh, who administers the truedelta survey site, have confirmed Ford’s improving quality. Whether it is as good as Honda and Toyota across the Ford entire lineup is certainly open to debate, but the bottom line is that Ford HAS improved quality, and is breaking away from GM and Chrysler in this regard.

    Ronnie Schreiber: 2) Considering that Ford and Chrysler have sold a lot more vehicles than Honda, it looks like the house of Soichiro has some tranny problems, and I’m not talking about some guy named Hideo wearing a kimono.

    I agree that Honda goofed up with its transmissions. The company made a major error, and it was far more widespread than the Toyota sludge problem (although, for some reason, the Toyota sludge problem is the one that domestic apologists remember).

    But comparing the number of internet hits with total sales for each company is misleading. Not all models from each manufacturer were affected by transmission problems.

    At Honda, the regular Civic models were not plagued by transmission troubles. Neither were many of the four-cylinder Accords. Transmission troubles plagued early Civic hybrids, the 1999-2003 Odyssey, Acura TL and CL models from the early 2000s, and V-6 Accords from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

    At Ford the models with transmission troubles were the Taurus/Sable with the 3.8 V-6, the Windstar, the post-1996 Taurus/Sables with the 3.0 overhead cam V-6, and the 2002-04 Explorer. Other Ford models were not affected – including the Taurus/Sable models with the overhead valve 3.0 V-6 (the transmission couldn’t handle the extra power put out by the 3.8 V-6 and the overhead cam 3.0 V-6).

    There is also the question of how fast each company corrected the problem. Ford didn’t correct its problematic transmissions on the Taurus/Sable and Windstar for over a decade. Honda moved much faster.

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