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Ford Taurus Has Not (Yet) Gained Traction

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.

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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).
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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?

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