Ford has not solved the equation of the Ford Taurus (nee Ford Five Hundred from 2005 through 2007). Launched in late 2004 as a 2005 model, the Ford Five Hundred lacked the head-turning style and powertrain selection of the Chrysler 300 introduced at about the same time. Where the 300 is a risky styling tour-de-force, the Five Hundred erred on the side of milquetoast conservatism. Here, it is evident that even the mature large car market rewards expressive stylign much more than styling that blends in.
Five Hundred Was Basically a Good Car – Timing/Competition was Unfortunate
Not that the Five Hundred was a bad car. It wasn’t bad, it was just boring. In AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award research the Five Hundred (along its stablemate Mercury Montego [now the Mercury Sable]) scored near theh top of the industry because of its outstanding seating package, visibility, cargo room and ergonomics. While its powertrain did not set any records, the anemic 203HP 3.0L V6 was adequate for the gray-haired buyers selecting a Five Hundred or Montego.
Launch and Leave Marketing Did Five Hundred No Favors
Adding insult to injury, Ford’s marketing strategy left the Five Hundred high and dry after its introduction period. Launch and leave advertising for an all new car launched into a hotly contested market has proven to be the kiss of death. And for Five Hundred it practically was. Ford watched as Chrysler garnered kudos with its 300/Magnum/Charger while the Five Hundred/Montego/Freestyle struggled to keep Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant working on two shifts.
Major Change After Three Years – Five Hundred Becomes Taurus
Resource constraints prevented Ford from rushing forward changes it knew were necessary. It was decided to adopt a major freshening after three years on the market. Five Hundred gets fresh front end styling adopting Ford’s three bar grille theme. The engine is now a 3.5L V6 getting 260HP mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The interior is upgraded and chassis is much more sporting. Oh, yeah, and the name has been changed from Five Hundred to Taurus. This decision was quickly reached by Alan Mulally when he concluded Taurus was too valuable a name to send to the scrap heap. (Frankly, it should have been Taurus 500 to bring the relationship closer together. Maybe the badges were too expensive).
Could it Be Taurus is Now Great?
In fact, during a conversation with a crusty old journalist at a competitor’s press event, he claimed the best car he had driven for the 2008 season was the new Ford Taurus. Jaws dropped, but he would not back down. He claims the Taurus is right up there with the best.
Well, unfortunately, freshening the styling, upgrading the powertrain and chassis and throwing Ford’s not insubstantial marketing muscle at the Taurus (stressing Taurus 5-Star safety ratings) has not resulted in greatly improved sales. In fact, compared with September 2006 sales of the Five Hundred, Taurus sales for 2008 are down by about 40%. Of course, if you include a few hundred left over 2007 models the number approaches down 30% or so.
So, something drastic is happening. And drastic is NOT GOOD. To date, Ford’s product and marketing have not taken off. Taurus is a much better car than the Five Hundred of a few months ago. Maybe Ford has moved too late with too little in a marketplace that no longer has room for error?
As the auto industry reviews its future under what certainly will be tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, cycle plans at each company are being scrutinized. What is happening is that some vehicles are being deferred as studies are carried out to determine if their fuel efficiency can be improved. Those that will definitely damage CAFE are being put on the chopping block if acceptable offsets cannot be found. On July 17, 2007 Chrysler Group announced that the Chrysler Imperial is being scrapped.
Thank Heavens The Emperor is Dead
This is one of the few benefits that can be expected from the more stringent CAFE standards. The Imperial, first seen during the 2006 Auto Show season has to be one of the most contrived, unattractive concepts shown in years. It goes into the “what were they thinking” category and we wondered if it was just a cruel joke.
Based on the Chrysler rear wheel drive platform the Imperial would have been assembled at Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly Plant along with the Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Charger. Chrysler states that the Brampton change-over for the 300/Magnum/Charger would continue moving forward just without the Imperial.
With Different Styling, Imperial Could Have Been a Reasonable Line Extention
Our complaint with Imperial is that it is ugly. It is an example of Chrysler styling having run amok following the “merger of equals” with Daimler-Benz. These are the same folks, you know, that have given us the ungainly Jeep Commander. The best styling coming out of Chrysler since the “acquisition” have been the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum. Neither the Charger or the Imperial shared the same spark. We hope that with Tom Gale – Chrysler’s former design boss – joining Cerberus as an advisor, that Chrysler can find its design mojo once again.
First Pictures: 2006 Dodge Challenger Concept
There is much hype this January about the Dodge Challenger concept, with conversations about the potential coupe’s marketability and the wisdom of reviving an icon seemingly everywhere, including on this blog.
Though the unveiling at the Detroit auto show is still a few days away, the first pictures have found their way into the public arena, so here they are available for VehicleVoice and AutoPacific to use. Has Chrysler’s Pacifica Studio succeeded in bringing back the 1970 Challenger as we wished it were, folding all the advances of the past twenty-five years into a package that still resonates with the 1970 look and feel?
Ward’s AutoWorld announced the results of their latest 10 Best Engines awards. The venerable Nissan VQ soldiers on (Infiniti 3.5L V6), but VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff note some interesting results.
Does An Engine Have to Be High Performance to be Best?
Note the “Hemi”, “turbocharged”, “supercharged” nomenclature. Wow, most of these are high performance engines beyond what a typical buyer will find in their cars. Probably the most mainstream engine of the bunch is the 4.6L V8 in the Mustang GT.
How about the 4-cylinder engine in certain price classes? How about the best V6 between 225HP and 275HP?
Here is the Ward’s Release
The editors of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine have chosen the 10 Best Engines for 2006, the 12th year of the award.
The engines and tested vehicles are:
* DaimlerChrysler AG: 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 (Charger R/T)
* Audi AG: 2L FSI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Audi A3)
* Audi AG: 4.2L DOHC V-8 (Audi S4)
* BMW AG: 3L DOHC I-6 (330i)
* Ford Motor Co.: 4.6L SOHC V-8 (Mustang GT)
* General Motors Corp.: 2L supercharged DOHC I-4 (Chevrolet Cobalt SS)
* General Motors Corp.: 2.8L turbocharged DOHC V-6 (Saab 9-3 Aero)
* Mazda Motor Corp.: 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mazdaspeed 6)
* Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Infiniti G35 6MT)
* Toyota Motor Corp.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Lexus IS 350)
Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.