By on January 11, 2009

Of course, that’s a bit blunt for corporate types. Ford design chief J Mays gives us the Ford-approved terminology for the automaker’s decision to forgo rear wheel-drive (RWD) for its passenger vehicles: “It’s out of the cycle plan,” J tells Automotive News [AN, sub]. “We’ve got other priorities at the moment. We’re going down a path right now that is all about fuel efficiency, and we’ve got a lot to do about that. So we’re not talking about rear-wheel drive.” AN provides the potted history of the layout’s extinction. “A year ago, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and product chief Derrick Kuzak confirmed that the new Ford and Lincoln rwd sedans would be coming. By midyear, Kuzak said Ford was rethinking the program but hadn’t discontinued it. Analysts had expected U.S. sales of the rwd cars to begin with the 2013 model year. The platform was to be shared with a large car developed for Australia.” And now, nothing. TTAC’s Best and Brightest will debate the wisdom of abandoning RWD. Suffice it to say, Lincoln. Oh, and the Hyundai Genesis.

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39 Comments on “Ford: RWD RIP...”


  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Really? Why are they investing in keeping open and modernising an I6 plant in Australia then. Those engines won’t be going FWD any time shortly?!

    Maybe that decision is going to change again then.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    FWD mustang gt ?

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    I think it’s a smart move. Enthusiasts buy RWD, the general public goes for FWD. Go where the volume is, do it right, get the ship back on course, then worry about halo products after a few more product cycles.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Ford has more important things to focus on right now. Also, I’d bet the Hyundai Genesis resetting expectations in the class has forced Ford to reevaluate the direction of the program.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If the GTO and G8 sold better, Ford probably would have brought over the Falcon.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    The biggest problem with the new, beautiful Taurus is that it is FWD. It has the looks of a proper RWD car.

    I would love to own a new Taurus… but I refuse to own a FWD car.

  • avatar
    Lee

    This is the myopic type of thinking that has got the D2.5 into all the trouble they are in. By building trucks and SUV’s for the last 30 years.

    You can’t just concentrate on one area of the market segment. By all means go all in on the fuel efficient vehicles, but don’t ignore those that also want a large RWD sedan/wagon/truck.

    Balance the portfolio.

    A theory going around in my head at the moment suggests that this similarity in styling to the Falcon that the Taurus now possesses is a step toward a US and Australian market Falcon/Taurus that is RWD, can be made in a LWB version to replace the Panther platform and reintroduce the Fairlane to the Australian market. As well as the Ute and Wagon variants of same. One can dream.

  • avatar
    BMW325I

    That means Asians and Europeans will dominate the sports car and halo car region. Which is a good thing.

  • avatar
    steronz

    Ford’s just trying to be Honda. And, really, can you blame them? If you had to be an automaker in this climate, would you rather be known as the guys with a good RWD platform, or the guys least likely to go bankrupt?

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    There should be a modern RWD platform available from Chrysler in bankruptcy court within a couple of months.

    Why should Ford spend its own money?

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Shame that the new Ecoboost engine’s going to have to spin FWD vehicles.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    I haven’t driven the Lincoln MKS, which is arguably the best Buick that GM doesn’t make. The whole domestic luxury sedan business is dying, so why invest in it? Or, is that the point here?

  • avatar
    mpvue

    more knee-jerk reaction from clueless bean counters. for some reason the domestics don’t know how to make RWD ‘regular’ cars. times get tough, they run back to FWD econoboxes, not that they’ve ever been particulary good at it (‘cept, of course, the K car).

  • avatar
    Durask

    Joe Aveage rants and raves about RWD, then goes and buys a Camry or an Accord. Or an Acura TL.

  • avatar
    Don Gammill

    I agree, mpvue.

    I remember the late ’80’s when the FWD Ford Probe was originally slated to be the “Mustang IV” (and likely would have been absent the organized outcry from a generation of Mustang owners). Front-wheel drive was the future, man, and that’s where Ford was going!

    And I’ve always heard that one of the main reasons the Ford 4.6-liter V8 is such a physically short, wide engine was because it was designed for transverse mounting in FWD applications – all because at the time (in the late ’80’s), Ford expected all of its domestic passenger cars to be FWD within a few years.

    Since it’s 1991 introduction, the 4.6 V8 has been available in at least seven Ford domestic passenger cars (among four completely different platforms) and only *one* of them (the final generation Lincoln WallowyAirSuspensionNightmare…er, Continental) was FWD.

    In my opinion, canceling this platform is an unwise overreaction that will ultimately keep Ford from eventually being able to compete in several very profitable market segments.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Smart move on Ford’s part. RWD is incompatible with maximizing fuel efficiency, period.

    Ford is a mass market brand, and the mass market either doesn’t care about RWD or actually doesn’t want it.

    There was a time when Cadillac was doing quite well selling FWD Devilles, Sevilles and Eldorados. Cadillac’s expensive move back to RWD has been cheered by buff books and some enthusiasts, but the brand has continued to lose market share.

    Audi does just fine as a luxury brand with FWD and AWD as the only options. Lincoln doesn’t need RWD to grow significantly. In fact, traditional Lincoln segment buyers can be sold on the advantage of FWD, especially when combined with traction control and yaw control to make motoring around in snow country easier.

    Leave the Mustang with its own little niche and of course keep the big trucks RWD for towing. Otherwise, kiss RWD goodbye.

  • avatar
    Don Gammill

    On second thought, if this means Ford will keep the Panther around a little longer, maybe it ain’t so bad!

    (Okay, back to reality.)

  • avatar
    Durask

    “In my opinion, canceling this platform is an unwise overreaction that will ultimately keep Ford from eventually being able to compete in several very profitable market segments.”

    Which segments? The ones dominated by BMW, Mercedes and top-end Lexus model? Um…probably wise to not even try.

    jthorner: agree 100%

  • avatar
    V6

    hopefully Ford Australia can continue RWD development and the future Mustang can be based off it, similar to Commodore/Camaro

  • avatar
    George B

    Ford is probably making the correct business decision, unfortunately. They need to focus on making high-volume profitable cars for their most viable brand: Ford. Lincoln hasn’t been a real luxury brand in the BMW, Mercedes, Lexus sense in decades if ever and adding a RWD model won’t change that. Ford bought Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Land Rover to get a real luxury brand and didn’t make big money during years of record high car sales. Imagine if they had used the PAG money to make class competitive versions of the Focus, Fusion, and Taurus instead.

    Honda has similar luxury brand credibility problems with Acura. However, they make good money with a few mass market FWD platforms with near-luxury variants. Not exciting, but Honda was making a profit building cars in Ohio. If Ford just works on making a few good high volume profitable FWD cars, a good high volume profitable kid hauling crossover or minivan, continue to make money with the F-150 and SUV variants, and keep the Mustang they’ll be ok.

  • avatar
    Don Gammill

    Durask:

    Yes, the ones dominated by top-end BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus models. If Ford is serious about being a truly competitive global automaker, it absolutely can not write off those segments.

    Do you really think Lincoln can survive being “near-luxury” forever? Ford tried to “buy” the true luxury segments with PAG, and yes, I agree, it was disasterous. Allowing Lincoln to spiral downmarket would be nearly as bad for Ford’s bottom line and worse for its already-tarnished image.

    Two decades ago, Ford was extremely competitive in the luxury segment (albeit a very different luxury segment) with the sunk-cost-profitable Town Car. In the 1990’s, consumer preference changed and the types of customers who had purchased Town Cars and Fleetwood Broughams started buying entry level Bimmers, Benzs, and Lexi for relatively the same price. Asleep at the wheel and cash drunk with SUV money, Ford finally (and half-heartedly) acknowledged this shift in 1999 with the Lincoln LS, which was clearly more than a day late and way too many dollars (and way too much substance) short. What Ford should have done then – and what it should do now – is stop ceding entire chunks of the market to the competition and do everything possible to have a seriously comparable model in every major market segment.

    I understand the magnitude of the current financial crisis, but a solid toehold (RWD platform) in a profitable segment where it has no current presence (mid- or full-size luxury sedans) would give Ford something (rather than nothing) to improve upon.

    It’s absurd to think that Ford can keep on and on shrinking its way to prosperity (current major belt-tightening aside) and become successful by selling only mass market “almost-as-good-as” models at discount prices. This is a desperate, purely defensive strategy, and I’ve never heard anybody say that the best offense is a terrific defense.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    but I refuse to own a FWD car

    Why?

    I’ve taken a real hankerin’ to AWD lately.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Don Gammill

    The crazy thing is, Ford have an excellent RWD platform alive and well in Australia with a great name-plate from the days of old: Falcon.

    On that platform they manage to produce;

    Sedan, Wagon, Ute/light-truck (like Camino), a soft-roader SUV called the Territory and absurd performance versions.

    This platform was only released late last year; the engineering is done!

  • avatar
    Don Gammill

    Peter, I’m not very familiar with Ford’s engineering on the Australian models, however I don’t think one poster’s previously-mentioned reference to the failure of the Pontiac G8/GTO exemplifies a fair comparsion with what might happen if Ford imported some version (old & updated or all-new) of the Falcon platform to the States.

    Consumer tastes are very different in Australia versus those in North America, not just in vehicle capabilities, but in exterior and interior styling, as well. The GTO and G8 were just different enough (okay, the GTO’s styling was a lot different) from what typical GM consumers had come to expect from Pontiac that it could have definitely affected a lot of purchase decisions when coupled with the difference in price from the home-grown FWD Pontiacs.

    This “culture/price-shock” would probably happen less with Lincoln buyers (and more importantly, with those Lincoln is trying to win over from imports) if the superior vehicle dynamics a RWD platform is capable of were maximized and made palpable to the consumer.

  • avatar
    Lee

    @Petemoran..

    And it’s a much better car in just about every way than the G8Commodore.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Lee

    Well, I can’t say that as I’ve owned neither myself and have not driven the latest Falcon. The G8/Commodore go neck’n’neck in Australia for loyalty.

    I’ve ridden in an F6 Falcon as that friend used to have a ’95 Supra manual twin turbo that he had totalled for him. All he’d done was change the exhaust in his F6 and we had no trouble blowing past anything we wanted, with 28mpg in a full size RWD performance sedan (if he’s careful).

    Ford could “borrow” this tech right now for the US if they were inclined. The money is already spent.

    The G8’s likely failure isn’t helping of course.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    A FWD mustang? Perish the thought. Kill the name before you do that, please.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    Ford has had a rock solid RWD fullsize sedan platform with a dedicated customer base….the Panther.

    Unfortunately they are too stupid to throw any updates it’s way or God forbid some advertising.

    Maybe this will help keep the ol’ Panther around a little while longer.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    @Don Gammill

    I think that kind of thinking (“Consumer tastes are very different in Australia versus those in North America…”) is the #1 problem with American car companies. What are Americans buying? FOREIGN CARS. I wonder why? You don’t see Cavaliers or Sebring’s in Europe. Not even as rental cars. You see the Focus, the Fiesta, and several Korean Chevrolets. You also are beginning to see PT Cruisers and Jeeps (Chrysler must be doing something right…).

    What the big 3 need to do is look at world market segment and build quality cars to fit them. If America wants a big v8 car, and they have one called a Holden or Falcon, give them that. If they want small, fuel efficient cars; bring the Fiesta or the Chevy Matiz (belch). Don’t re-invent the wheel just because “Consumer tastes are very different…”. Build your premium brands to compete with Premium brands. Lincoln should not compete with the BMW 3. It should compete with the 5 and 7. The Mustang should compete with the 3. They should not waste their resources building 2 Focus’. It should be one Focus. American spec cars could have premium A/C and automatics since America forgot how to drive a stick but really, that is all that America demands different; have premium A/C and automatics.

    I am willing to bet, if you compare the needs of the Euros, Brits, and city dwelling Aussies, they are all similar to the Americans – with have premium A/C and automatics.

  • avatar
    tedward

    jthorner…..I don’t understand why you’d say that rwd is incompatible with fuel efficiency, especially when audi can get decent mpg out of their A4 with a clunking huge awd system. I’d definitely agree that it isn’t in line with customer expectations (ex…the miata and older, small displacement 3 series get some scorn from a lot of american car guys despite how well they handle), but I wouldn’t agree that efficiency losses from a driveshaft are enough to kill the possibility.

    I think what this does though is ensure that the mustang will face worsening competition from imports (hyundai, nisaan) and could very well loose market share as these cars exploit economies of scale with their platform mates to trickle technology down into economy sports cars that Ford just can’t afford to. Also, of course, this is the kiss of death for Lincoln. FWD luxury has apparently not worked at all for Saab, Volvo and the old Cadillac, so why would they apply this format to their original luxury brand? They expect it to die.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    FWD makes the most sense for a mass production vehicle in that you can get more passenger space for the same size vehicle in an FWD than in a RWD of the same size.

    RWD only makes sense where the emphasis is on performance and handling. Given the current levels of FWD handling and ability to handle HP, RWD is more of a fashion statement than a necessity.

    I think that Ford is right to focus (sorry) on lower end vehicles for the immediate future. Get them right, and abandon Lincoln to its fate for a decade or so. Better not to do a thing than to do it badly. Note: If there’s still enough of a market for town cars for the carriage trade, I’d continue to make them, but I might call them something other than Lincoln.

    The whole idea of Ford being a broad spectrum manufacturer came from General Motors jealousy. There’s never really been a market case for Lincoln, except, perhaps for 7 – 8 years during the early 60’s. Up to a certain point, Old Henry the original had it right. Model T’s and Model A’s and if they want it all tarted up, let ’em shop elsewhere.

  • avatar
    TRL

    Clear thinking again at Ford. Deal with it.

  • avatar
    Don Gammill

    Kurt:

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed with the upcoming Fiesta, but nearly every time Ford has followed your logic, they’ve gotten their lunch eaten by GM or the foreign competition.

    The original late-’70’s Fiesta is one example. Another is the ’80’s Merkur fiasco. And after a nearly three billion dollar investment in the mid-1990’s, the Mondeo/Countour/Mystique suffered the same fate. “Americanizing” Ford’s international offerings without making significant platform changes (for things like rear seat & cargo room) has usually failed in the past, and it probably will again.

    Maybe it’s time for Ford to try the inverse approach: design a vehicle for the North American market and then try to make it conform to foreign market tastes elsewhere in the world. Likely recipie for disaster, right? That’s why I say consumer preferences are fundamentally different between North America and the rest of the world, and Ford – no matter how much money they’re bleeding – would do well to remember that.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    It doesn’t make sense. They already produce front-engine, rear-drive V8 drivetrains for the F 150 (and Mustang), so sharing with a full size sedan is practically cost free. Plus, are they really gonna give up on the cop car and taxi market? Not in this economy.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I think that kind of thinking (”Consumer tastes are very different in Australia versus those in North America…”) is the #1 problem with American car companies. What are Americans buying? FOREIGN CARS. I wonder why?

    The most popular cars in America may have a foreign nameplate, but they’re domestic in their design philosophy through and through. Take the Camry: while it’s occasionally sold in other markets**, it does very well in America because it was engineered for America.

    Were Toyota to try and sell the Avensis or suchlike here, they’d fail, just as Ford likely would if they ported over the Falcon, or GM is with the G8. As much as it pains enthusiasts, the three- to four-hundred thousand Camrys speak volumes about how well a front-drive appliance actually does sell. Ford would do better to improve the Fusion and Taurus—especially their deplorable marketing—rather than try and switch gears.

    Localization is important. Even BMW and Mercedes do it, though admittedly by declining to sell, for example, cloth-seat’ed S-Classes equipped with tiny little turbodiesels that can’t get out of their own way.

    ** in Australia, for example, tweaked slightly into the Toyota Aurion, and selling too badly at all.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It doesn’t make sense. They already produce front-engine, rear-drive V8 drivetrains for the F 150 (and Mustang), so sharing with a full size sedan is practically cost free.

    The drivetrain is not the problem; the platform is. I don’t know what world you live in that platform engineering is cost-free.

    The Mustang platform would require significant changes to “work” as a mid- or full-size sedan. It would need to be stretched in every concievable dimension. Ford would also need to reconcile the the wasted-space issue that plagues rear-drive cars versus their front-drive competition.

    The F-150 is so far removed from a passenger vehicle that it’s not feasible. You cannot take a platform designed to pull eleven thousand pounds and scale it into something that has a decent amount of room, good ride and mileage.

    Plus, are they really gonna give up on the cop car and taxi market? Not in this economy.

    The cop market would probably continue buying Panthers. I realize I come across as hard on the old girl, but it does fill this very specialized niche very, very well. If you want something that’s cheap to repair after you’ve hopped the kerb at the donut shop pulling up to a crime scene six times a day, you cannot beat a platform as crude as the Panther.

    It’s like the space-shuttle: quarter-century-old technology, utterly useless outside of it’s niche, but the best choice given it’s purpose.

    As for taxis: they’re planning the Transit for that, which is a much roomier, more fuel-efficient and more comfortable vehicle.

  • avatar
    Alcibiades

    It may be a smart move on the part of management; I don’t know. I am sorry to hear it though. There is something about RWD that appeals. A good AWD car like the Subaru Legacy may be as good as RWD, but most FWD/AWD cars are not balanced right and don’t have the same steering feel and driving dynamics as a good RWD car. And I like the idea of RWD, dividing the chores between the front wheels and the rear wheels, so the rear wheels don’t just come along for the ride.

  • avatar
    Hwanung

    A) The Falcon was never designed for Left Hand Drive. I’ll let you do the math on this one…

    B)How is a big RWD vehicle going to help Ford hit CAFE at 35mpg (assuming it doesn’t go up even more after that)?

    It’s not.

    Everyone jumps up and down about Holden and Ford of Australia, but both of them are getting their asses kicked by Toyota for similar reasons as the US.

    Toyota AU is destroying them.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Hwanung

    The Falcon was never designed for Left Hand Drive.

    The engineering was not done in parallel at the time true. Until very recently there was an intention to left-hook the Falcon for export and the engineering was done after release, but shelved.

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