I’ve been driving the Ford S-Max Crossover for about a week now through England and Wales. The S-Max is a derivative of Ford’s European Minivan – the Galaxy – and its European Mid-Size Car – the Mondeo. Very impressive vehicle in many ways. It was selected as the European 2007 Car of the Year as judged by 58 journalists across 22 European countries. Apparently, Alan Mulally, Ford’s new CEO is trying to bring the S-Max to the USA in 2009 or so. Will the S-Max work in America?
Is S-Max a Crossover SUV, Minivan, Station Wagon or Something Un-Identifiable?
First, what is it? We at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific have found that if a buyer cannot categorize a vehicle, i.e. figure out if it is a Minivan or SUV or Wagon, they will shy away from it. This is what happened to the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes R-Type. Ford positions the S-Max as a Crossover SUV – a segment that is booming in the USA. At a glance, S-Max has little “SUV” ambiance. It is a very useful MPV – meaning multi-purpose vehicle – but where is the SUV DNA? S-Max has a very fast windshield with “canard” windows between the windshield and the A-Pillar. This gives a very sporty silhouette, but may yield a shape that is too Minivan-like.
The S-Max is a seven-passenger vehicle with a small third-row seat. The third row easily folds flat for loading luggage. If S-Max were introduced in the USA, how would S-Max fit among the other Ford Crossover SUVs – the 5-passenger Ford Escape, 5-passenger Ford Edge, and the 7-Passenger Ford Taurus X (Freestyle)? It is not as SUV-like as Escape and Edge – maybe similar to the SUV DNA of Freestyle/Taurus X.
S-Max, in some ways, comes across as similar to the Mazda CX-7 or a slightly smaller version of the Mazda CX-9. It does not come across as similar to the larger General Motors Lambda Crossover SUVs like the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia or Buick Enclave.
Today at the Chicago Motor Show, Ford Motor Company announced that it would rename the slow selling Five Hundred sedan “Taurus” for the 2008 model year. At the same time Ford will rename the Mercury Montego sedan “Sable” and the Freestyle Crossover SUV the “Taurus X”.
The Mercury Montego was first in AutoPacific’s 2006 Ideal Vehicle Awards. The Ford Five Hundred was third with the Ford Crown Victoria sandwiched in between. AutoPacific’s IVA measures the practical aspects of a vehicle and those that score closest to what their buyers were expecting got the highest ratings. Based on AutoPacific’s research and reviewing Montego, Five Hundred (and Freestyle) at length, VehicleVoice staffers concluded that these vehicles have not sold very well because of their bland styling and anemic powertrains. With a 2008 facelift and changing the names to more familiar monikers maybe Ford can generate stronger sales for these good vehicles.
2008 Model Year Freshening Provides Opportunity to Rename Five Hundred
The Taurus name comes back concurrent with an appearance freshening on the Five Hundred. We have reported previously that the Five Hundred is getting a facelift for the 2008 model year and also getting Ford’s excellent 3.5L V6 engine with over 260HP. So, with the appearance and powertrain changes, the 2008 model year provides an opportunity for Ford to rename the Five Hundred as the Taurus.
Taurus X Naming Will Prove to be a Blunder
The Ford Freestyle is an excellent Crossover SUV that nobody knows about. Plagued with a crummy name, bland styling and anemic engine from launch, Freestyle’s excellent package, seating environment and ergonomics could not pull it out of the doldrums. Now with the market beginning to recognize the term “Crossover SUV”, Ford renames the Freestyle “Taurus X”. This will immediately identify the vehicle as a station wagon, not a Crossover SUV.
We at VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and the VehicleVoice Blog-o-Rama (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) often feel that we are fighting an uphill battle concerning the use of the word “Crossovers”. This is a term that has come to mean SUVs based on car platforms and mechanicals. That’s fine. However, it is industry jargon that has not been adopted by the public. The media, picking up on industry jargon is forcing the term where no-one needs it.
An SUV is an SUV or Its NOT
Based on our research, it’s simple. American vehicle buyers have categorized vehicles into several basic categories: cars and trucks further subdivided into luxury cars, mid-size cars, economy/compact cars, sports/sporty cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and vans/minivans.
The SUV category seems to be giving folks the most trouble. To a typical vehicle-buyer, an SUV is an SUV is an SUV. There are big ones and small ones, but an SUV is an SUV. Muddying the playing field, however, is the notion of a “crossover”. A Traditional SUV in this more complicated world is a truck-based SUV like Ford Explorer or Toyota Sequoia. A crossover SUV is an SUV based on a car platform, a “unit-body” platform. But people often forget that the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Mitsubishi Montero are all based on unit-body platforms but are not car-based. Does this make them a crossover? NO!
Chevrolet Trailblazer… a “real” Truck-Based SUV
Post-Modern SUV… Soft Roader… NOT Crossover
So, it’s pretty muddy. What crossovers need to be are at-a-glance SUVs. The basics of the SUV equation are well known so deviating is a risk. An SUV must have a basic two box bodystyle, relatively tall glass for good visibility, a relatively upright windshield that provides a stiff A-Pillar allowing easy ingress/egress, and a command seating position. At the same time interior roominess and the ability to carry cargo is very important. From our perspective, this most American of vehicle types is very easy to understand but easy for a foreign car company to get wrong.
Pontiac Torrent… Car-Based Post-Modern (Crossover) SUV
Let’s read on about how USA Today recently reacted to the issue of “crossovers”…
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.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.comhttp://www.autopacific.com) pay close attention to the the dynamics in one of the largest and most dynamic product segments in the North American auto market – the Premium Mid-Size SUV market. This VehicleVoice blog (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) delves into the dynamics between Traditional SUVs and Post-Modern SUV entries.
Are Traditional SUVs Based on Trucks on Their Way Out?
Some say traditional SUVs are on their way out, but their implied death is exaggerated at best or at worst will come only after a lengthy illness that has just begun to take root. That the playing field is changing there is no doubt, but traditional SUV entries will be an important part of the mix well into the next decade, despite the amount of chatter that Post Modern SUVs (some refer to them as crossovers) are generating and the speculation that the product configuration will take over the world. Though segmentation is subjective and a constantly moving target, but a close look at the Premium Mid-Size SUV segment as currently defined indicates that it is not quite time to write off traditional SUVs.
Ford Explorer Versus Toyota Highlander: Which is the Way of the Future?
Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.
A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is
Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.
This article appeared in the December 8, 2005 issue of USA Today. While VehicleVoice agrees in general with what Healey and O’Donnell report, we should not lose sight that folks really have vehicles in only a few clearly identifiable classes: Cars (sedans, coupes, sports cars) and Trucks (pickups, SUVs and Minivans). In VehicleVoice Research (http://www.vehiclevoice.com), there is seldom any comment on “crossovers”. A vehicle is either an SUV or its not. Folks will talk about softer SUVs (crossovers) that maneuver better, get better fuel economy. But, too many manufacturers are forgetting that, at a glance, a crossover needs to be at-a-glance an SUV. Heck, you might get a cross between a wagon and a sporty coupe and put it real low to the ground and call it a crossover. Eeeeek!
Popularity of crossovers leaves SUVs in dust
By James R. Healey and Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY
Buyers are shifting rapidly from traditional SUVs to more comfortable and more fuel-efficient crossover models.
The Ford Freestyle is the crossover vehicle most traded in for by truck-based Explorer owners. The Ford Freestyle is the crossover vehicle most traded in for by truck-based Explorer owners.
The transition had been inching along for several years but has turned into a stampede.
Crossovers, adaptations of car or minivan underpinnings, outsold traditional, truck-based SUVs the past three months and should do so routinely and permanently beginning next year, according to data and projections from Ford Motor (F). (Photos: Hot new crossover SUVs)
PROS AND CONS
better fuel economy
Can’t tow or haul as much
less ground clearance
lighter-duty four-wheel drive.
able to tow and haul heavy loads
greater ground clearance
heavy-duty four-wheel drive.
poor gas mileage