By on January 13, 2012


I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”

Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.

Something had to be done…

Hmmm… why not subtract ‘twenty’ from the Five Hundred name. Call it a 480, and put in a nice classic Volvo styled fascia on the front end. Throw in an interior inspired by the best of Swedish design and, Voila! Ford would have offered a Volvo that would have hit the square peg of the brand’s main customers… and maybe even a few others who were considering an upscale Camry or a Lexus ES.

Sadly Ford never made a Volvo version of the Five Hundred, or the Flex for that matter. Instead they mis-balanced the diverging priorities of competing simultaneously with BMW (S40’s, C30’s, S60’s) and conservative middle-aged Americans who valued luxury transport over driving dynamics (Xc90, XC60, C70).  The brand became a disaster.

I am starting to see the same ingredients mixed into other brands these days. Take for instance Scion.

Yes this brand will get a nice pop and halo in the form of the upcoming FR-S. Then again, halo sports cars that are shared with other brands tend to be short-lived. Just ask Pontiac and Saturn about the Solstice and the Sky.

So what would be the perfect car to put into Scion’s kinship?

Two years ago I would have strongly argued for making the CT200h a Scion. It didn’t have the luxury trappings of a Lexus. However it offered tons of sporting character and attracted the type of youthful and educated audience that Scion sorely needed at that point.

You know. The type of people that quickly walked away from Scion after they started marketing bloated SUV-like compacts that should have been marketed as… Toyotas… or Volvos. Who knows.

Wait a second. YOU know!

A lot of potentially great cars over the years have been marketed to the wrong brands for the wrong reasons.  So I ask the B&B, “What cars were given the wrong brand, and where should they have gone?”.

Like most marketing classes in modern day MBA-land there are no right answers. Just SWAG’s and opinions. Feel free to demote a Cadillac to a Chevy if you must. So long as you can defend it, let’s hear it.

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49 Comments on “Hammer Time: What Should Have Been...”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”

    Hang on a sec. Wasn’t the 500 just a decontented and rebodied version of the S80 (or whatever the big Volvo of the time was called)?

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, I was just about to quote this “Sadly Ford never made a Volvo version of the Five Hundred” and state the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        I was referring to the model itself… not the platform which was already widely in use.

        As a lot of the folks here already know, Ford decided to make a Mercury Montego instead which at that point, was the only alternative version of the Five Hundred. They would have been better served by dedicating those resources to a more ‘profitable’ version of this vehicle.

        A little story related to this. Back in the mid-90’s I was asked by one of my co-workers whether they should get a loaded up Camry or a Volvo 850. I recommended the Camry. But a lot of folks back then were willing to pay the extra $5k to $7k for a well-equipped 850.

        The 850 was redesigned into the S70 and then… pretty much nothing. The V70 / XC70 were kept up as wagon variants but Volvo pretty much abandoned the ‘near-luxury family sedan’ niche by that point…. which had arguably been a strong market for the 940 and 960 models as well.

        The S60 was more aimed towards those who wanted a compact sedan and the S80 was a competitor to the E-Class and 5-Series. That’s about $15k to $20k more than the Lexus ES

        A loaded up Ford Five Hundred with some upgrades that complemented the Volvo name would have been a great successor to the 850/S70. I could easily have seen a Volvo version selling for around $30k to $35k back in the mid-2000’s.

  • avatar

    While listing Volvo’s models, you left out the one that shares its platform with the Five Hundred – the S80. It was much smaller than the Five Hundred, but much more expensive. I used to see tons of them on the road, but when Volvo decided they were never going to update it, sales fell off a cliff.

    The S80 has the similar problem as the Saab 9-5 (Saab’s financial problems notwithstanding): it’s in a no man’s land between premium and luxurious, and there are frankly too many superior cars available for the same price or less.

    Making the big Volvo as affordable as the Five Hundred (at the time the S80 was released) would have meant selling a car that was cheaper than their midrange model at the time, the V70 (850). Volvo had simply grown too upscale for the Volvo 480 you dream of.

    I’ve also always considered both it and the new Taurus to be “crossover sedans”, owing to their beefy, towering statures matched by no other sedans (not even the 300).

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      “The S80 has the similar problem as the Saab 9-5 (Saab’s financial problems notwithstanding): it’s in a no man’s land between premium and luxurious, and there are frankly too many superior cars available for the same price or less.”

      Their sticker prices were the big problem. My V70 had a sticker of $40,000, but I bought it for $30,000 with 10 minutes of “negotiations.” At $40k, it doesn’t compete. At $30k, it is nearly impossible to beat.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      Lot’s of Volvo S80 and XC70 were on the road because of Ford dumping them in Hertz Rental Fleet. They had their own code and you would be able to reserve them. Jaguar & Land Rover Disco/LR3 = Same thing. Fast forward and remove Hertz from Ford & Premier group and Hertz goes to Mercedes and Infiniti.

    • 0 avatar

      The S80’s problem was that it was pretty cramped for what it cost. I mean, yes, it was nice, but it was small inside and didn’t offer much over the smaller S60.

      You had to have a really good reason to want the S80, and there weren’t many compelling ones.

  • avatar

    I suppose you’d actually have to have the design houses in question involved to do this, but the the Audi TT is the spiritual successor to the Volkswagon Karmann Ghia. Also, I’m pretty sure the Honda Crosstour should be a GMC.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Camry —> ES350
    480 —> S80

    The idea of selling a ‘decontented’ version of the same platform had already become a standard in the industry. Even Volvo’s S40 was little more than an alternative version of the Focus platform. By the time of the Five Hundred’s release, most Volvo platforms were already being used by Ford in the North American market.

    I stand by my Monday morning quarterback position. If Mercedes was okay with selling a ‘decontented’ version of the E-Class platform as a Chrysler 300, Volvo should have been given an upscale version of the 500… and a Flex as well.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Ah, but the Chrysler 300 wasn’t a decontented E-class. The 300 traces its lineage back through the LH cars to some Renault platform inherited from AMC. The E-class lended some bits and pieces to the LX, but not its platform.

      Good point. I had the right sentiment crossed with the wrong word. The 1st generation 300C was a cross between the LX platform and prior generation Mercedes components.

      The big picture remains the same.

  • avatar

    I always thought the 500/Taurus was a great family sedan. The interior was enormous. I figured the lack of sales was due to the average consumer being scared of the CVT transmission combined with detroit’s lack of quality with cutting edge tech and unwillingness to stand behind said defects.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve B

      The average consumer likely doesn’t know the different. You pull the lever thingie to D and start texting. The Versa has been a huge seller with a CVT. The Prius has had a CVT from the start.

      The Taurus/500 doesn’t have the Accord/Camry reputation for being bulletproof, the Kia/Hyundai trendy up-‘n-comer edge, or the overdone retro styling in the 300/Charger that certain demographics love. It’s just kinda there.

      • 0 avatar

        Prius has a “CVT” in the sense that you don’t feel it “shift”, however, it works entirely differently than the usual non-hybrid CVTs which inspire reliability suspicion owing to belts, pulleys, clutches, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        Bad for Ford, great for value-minded buyers like me who want a nice used full-size car at an insane bargain price. 500/Taurus and its Mercury equivalents fit the bill perfectly. They’re even cheaper than equivalent Impalas, and you get a better car

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      I never understood why the 500/Taurus were so roomy based on the cramped Volvo S80. With the S60 being so small you would think the S80 would have a larger rear seat. My 2011 Mazda 6 is much larger. So is a Camry. Any Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      IIRC, the original 500 was offered with Ford’s 3 liter 225 hp Duratec engine and a CVT. That engine was a little weak on torque (and HP) to move a two-ton vehicle with any alacrity. The CVT just underscored the point, as the engine always seemed to be working hard.

      The later version with the larger and more powerful V6, teamed with a conventional autobox, remedied those problems, but the reputational damage was done. I also believe there were reliability issues with the CVT.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the Five Hundred based on the XC90 platform to take advantage of the four wheel drive design? Which is why the body was “stretched” all over the place to make it fit. It looked bloated then just like the new Taurus does now. U G L Y. The new Fusion looks vastly better and the proportions look great.

  • avatar

    “THE WHOLE REASON Ford bought Volvo was to get the P2 platform which many of Ford’s models including the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS are STILL BUILT on derivatives of today. D*mn do some research before publishing. The Ford 500 (renamed Taurus) started on lower cost to produce version of the P2 Platform.”


    Re-read what I wrote. Either that or use the reply button to respond to a comment made by someone else. I never denied the platform sharing. I don’t think anyone here has made that statement.

    Let’s focus on the main question… or at least try to touch on it.

    • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        @naterator: VolvoFanBoi here was spamming the board earlier because he was convinced someone misspoke about his favorite brand. It appears Mr. Lang (rightfully) stepped in and edited his posts.

        Everyone knows Ford’s large sedans and crossovers are based on the Volvo platform. Everyone also knows that Fords large sedans have mostly flopped, as has Volvo’s attempt to become a trendy, upmarket brand.

        Steve’s right. The Five Hundred’s more inline with Volvo’s roots than the S60/S80. Perhaps if Volvo had realized that themselves, they might still be relevant.

  • avatar

    The Integra and RSX should have been Hondas.

  • avatar

    To morph the topic slightly, there are cars which were left out to die, no matter what brand they were attached to:

    Honda S2000 (after coming up with a brilliant rear drive chassis, why not produce variants – coupes, sedans, V6 or even create a 3 liter V8 from motorcycle parts stock?)

    Pontiac Fiero (this chassis cried out for a modern power train – they coulda bought one from Toyota ferchrissakes and an upgrade to the front suspension. Instead they made it uglier with each year)

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The S2000 was really a one-shot platform like the NSX. Turning it into anything else would basically require a whole new body design. Pretty much the same reason the Miata and Solstice/Sky never spawned any significant variants.

      The Fiero was supposed to get the infamous Quad 4 for its second generation, but GM killed the car instead.

      • 0 avatar

        I really thought car design was about creating a specific platform and from that platform, alternatives could be developed. Surely the basic kit of S2000 parts could have created more diversity even if the platform hadn’t changed. For instance, a coupe version could have had an entirely different character from the roadster. Mazda’s certainly shown the same myopic tendencies with the Miata; they have had a variety of turbocharged variants of 2.0 l Mazda fours, but have never offered these on the Miata.

        As to the Fiero, it cried (like most GM cars of the era) for a well-engineered powertrain.

      • 0 avatar

        The second gen miata offered a turbo.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    The Tc should never have been a Scion. It definitely should have been sold as a Toyota Celica….

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Nissan Maxima. Maxima being compaired to near luxury has it’s value issues. The more luxury companies went to lower ends of the market the harder it is to move a loaded 40K Maxima. Not to mention a CVT.

    Murano – Now streched in drag as the Infiniti JX. Also value issue when loaded vs. base X3 and GLK. Murano might be better value but is still says Nissan.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Another one on topic. Toyota Avalon AKA Best Buick ever built. Until current Buick generation.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Hyundai Genessis and Eques. I was sure Hyundai would pick up a European like Jaguar, Volvo or Saab and place it’s luxury there. I was wrong. All they do is sell the fake Bentley badge as a Dealer aftermarket add on. Great cars – Harder sale even with the improved Accent wearing the same name.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Jeep Compass and Patriot. Not sure where they belong.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Mercedes G – Maybe Land Rover?

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Chrysler Pacifica – trying to move Chrsler upmarket yet the market refused it as a Chrysler. Then they decontended it and it made even less sence. Before the gas prices went wild could have used a heavy duty version to go into Taxi/Livery service. Like the R class is doing now.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    You got me going today Steve….
    BTW – I am sure you are aware of the Volvo / Ford platforms.
    Say no to Haters.

  • avatar
    George B

    I’ve never understood why the Corvette is sold at Chevrolet dealerships. Always thought it deserved to be sold through Cadillac dealerships instead. Imagine how much better the Corvette could be with a class competitive interior, a more prestigious brand, and a dealership experience that matched its price and performance.

  • avatar

    If you had been in Ford’s Building 2 Design Studio around 2001, you would have noticed that the design bogy for the 500 was the VW Passat, with many of the interior themes also being co-opted from VW and Audi.

    Next to it, sat the interior styling buck for the S197 Mustang.

    I recall saying to one of my colleagues, “Ford just designed a Super-Passat on a VCC platform”, but I was afraid the car would be a flop where the Mustang would not be. Because everyone knows what a Mustang is and should be, but a 500? Nobody was sure what it should be, couldn’t be a Taurus because “we devalued the brand through neglect”, couldn’t be a Crown Vic because it wasn’t RWD.

    So much confusion and grasping onto some expired paradigms in those days…

  • avatar

    Several 2013 Hyundai models need to be Nissans.

    Genesis 2.0 coupe—>200sx
    Veloster/Veloster turbo—–>Pulsar/Pulsar GTI-R

  • avatar

    Holden Commodore= Chevrolet Chevelle
    Holden Caprice= Buick Park Avenue
    Opel Insignia OPC= Buick Regal GSX
    Fiat Strada= Dodge Rampage
    Alfa Romeo 4C= Lancia Stratos
    Suzuki Kizashi= Volkswagen Jetta
    Hyundai Equus= Lincoln Town Car

  • avatar

    If Ford could have stolen Miata from Mazda it would have made a great Capri, and maybe would still have a Mercury today.

  • avatar

    Chrysler PT Cruiser should have been a Plymouth. Could have had a sedan delivery version easily, but couldn’t with a Chrysler nameplate. Same problem as when they overlapped DeSoto into oblivion.

    Chrysler Concorde and Cirrus should have been Plymouths as well, and the original minivan strategy of Plymouth Voyager/Chrysler Town & Country was a sensible one. Nowadays, having Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep under the same dealership roof should avoid these problems. Should.

    The Corvette is fine as a Chevy. It played a role in Chevrolet’s postwar transformation from dull basic transportation to a cultural icon, having predated the ’55 by two years. Corvettes have always been a little on the raw side and that doesn’t fit with Buick, Olds or Caddy.

    At least until they screwed it up with inferior product, Cadillac was the best-protected brand in the GM stable. One standard size save for Fleetwood limos, no station wagons. Specialty cars like the Eldorado were premium. You could get a “cheap” Caddy in the Calais, but it was priced above the top Buicks and Oldsmobiles. They also sold in low numbers because it made little sense to spring for a relatively stripped Caddy over a loaded Electra or 98. If you’re that price-conscious, you probably shouldn’t be considering a Cadillac anyway.

    Volume-conscious GM didn’t do that with the other makes, allowing redundancies and overlaps all over the place because people bought them.

  • avatar

    I think that my candidate for one of the most misbadged cars (and it really hurt its sales, and it is a great car) is the Mercury Marauder (probably the best Panther ever made.) Give it a Ford badge, call it a Crown Vic SVT and might have sold a few more. At least some of the second hand Police interceptor hounds would have bitten

  • avatar

    If it had a bit better steering and a little more sport to its handling, I think the Kia Optima SX-T would make great SAAB. It has the look, inside and out, down pat.

  • avatar

    Now that I think about it, the late, lamented Pontiac G8, with a powertrain change (Miller-cycle or twin-turbo Wankel) would have been a nice second-generation Mazda Millenia.

  • avatar

    Ford Flex = 1st-gen Scion xB on steroids
    Lincoln MKS = Ford Taurus
    Ford Taurus = Lincoln MKS (or preferrably, Lincoln Continental)
    Ford Freestyle/Taurus X = Ford Explorer Sport
    previous generation Hyundai Accent 3-door hatch = modern equivalent of 1970s/80s Honda Civic 3-door hatch
    Chevrolet Impala = Buick
    Hyundai Azera = Buick or Oldsmobile
    Hyundai Genesis Sedan = Infiniti Q46/Q50
    Hyundai Veloster = Geo Storm
    Nissan Versa = Geo Metro

  • avatar

    GM never should have foisted the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion upon North American buyers. Instead, they should have given us the Opel Astra sedan/hatch/estate under the Chevrolet and Saturn brands. Maybe they could have sold the sedan as a Chevrolet and given the hatch and wagon to Saturn to capture the younger, more ‘edgy’ buyer. Maybe they could have given all three body styles to both brands — it wouldn’t be the most egregious badge engineering GM has done.

    • 0 avatar

      Saturn did get the Aura hatchbacks, but they flopped. And were only sold for one model year. ’08

      I think should have made Cobalt just better over all, and not ‘well at least it’s better than the Cavalier!’

  • avatar

    Over here in the EU, Volvo’s are hot. Lots and lots of them everywhere, great quality, great drive. All models have received updates, new models are here, looking pretty good.
    Disclaimer: I just traded in my 87 MB 300 for a 99 v70. And than I started noticing them everywhere. I’m amazed.

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