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Posts filed under ‘Ford’

Conflicts of Interest

September 29, 2011 by Matt

Ford World Headquarters HQ Corporate Building Office

Whether you’re an individual or a corporation, standing on your own two feet is something to be proud of. Ford, the only one of the Big Three automakers not to receive bailout money during the opening months of the current administration, recently rolled out an ad pitching their relative independence from taxpayers as a selling point.

It’s understood that Ford’s relationship with their unions is just as unhealthily symbiotic as GM’s or Chrysler’s. Also, despite the fact they didn’t require bailout funding, Ford has certainly been on the receiving end of the taxpayer dole many times in the past. So they’re not “blameless” by any means. Still, I regard the company more positively than its rivals for having had the management acumen to navigate the recent downturn without requesting a public lifeline, and a recent survey shows I’m not alone: 50% of those asked said they’d be less likely to buy a GM car because of the bailout.

However, not everyone smiles on Ford’s publicizing of their independence, including some in positions of power. The Detroit News reports:

Ford pulled the ad after individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early ’09 and again when the ad flap arose. And more.

With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can’t have that.

The ad, pulled in response to White House questions (and, presumably, carping from rival GM), threatened to rekindle the negative (if accurate) association just when the president wants credit for their positive results (GM and Chrysler are moving forward, making money and selling vehicles) and to distance himself from any public downside of his decision.

Behold an “intended consequence” of government takeover of private industry: The success of a company becomes a political liability, and something to be suppressed. A committee from the House of Representatives is investigating the extent to which the administration pressured Ford to yank the ad, but as they say, the damage is done. The Obama White House has amply demonstrated it has no qualms using taxpayer money to pick winners and losers in the private sector, and won’t hesitate to strongarm companies like Ford who remain proud of their more prudent fiscal decisions, and have every right to crow about it.

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Have It Your Way

September 16, 2011 by Matt

Mustang Customizer Ford Website Options

A fun palate-cleanser for a chilly Friday: Ford’s new “customizer” website for their 2012 Mustang.

Beyond how much fun it is to play with and think that the automaker could actually deliver the combination of options selected, it’s refreshing to see Ford replicating a big part of what made the Mustang a runaway success in the ’60s: The ability to customize the car any way you want. I mean, how cool is it that the factory gives you 8 different air dams and 22 different wheel options to choose from? And they let you select the under-window trim strip color and headlight design, among other things? Amazing. Forget 2 or 3 pre-bundled “option packages;” this is how car buffs want to buy their cars. Provided you’re willing to wait for the factory to assemble “your” Mustang, it seems like it would boost new car sales significantly too, as chances are slim a second-hand pony car is going to have exactly the collection of features you want. It’s genius.

Between the essential goodness of the car and ability to tailor one precisely to your tastes, Ford really is firing on all cylinders.

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Styling Misfires: The 1996 Ford Taurus

August 8, 2011 by Matt

1997 Ford Taurus Sedan

Today we begin a series on cars that may not have become industry bywords for ugliness, like the Edsel or Pontiac Aztek, but whose still off-putting styling played a role in their fall from grace, or their lack of initial success. Before we dive in, I should point out that these are all observations based on anecdotal evidence, and simply advance a theory; nothing more. Besides, aesthetic taste is so subjective that any attempt to tether impressions of a car’s looks to a hard number like vehicle sales is risky at best. Still, I believe a correlation can be made, even if we can’t prove actual causality.

The first example is the much-ballyhooed full redesign of the Ford Taurus for the ’96 model year. Entering that year, the Taurus was coming off a four-year streak as the best-selling car in the US. Ford was eager to recreate the enthusiastic reception the then-radical first-generation Taurus received in ’86. And after the hype and the rollout, the car did keep its best-seller title for ’96, mainly due to fleet sales. However, in ’97, the Taurus was displaced by the Toyota Camry, and hasn’t come close to the top spot since. With that kind of a hard-and-fast break, it’s difficult not to wonder what happened. Automotive history reveals that as much as buyers are interested in the fresh and new, lack of change tends to lead to a more gradual decline in a model’s sales over a number of years, whereas sudden change in the wrong direction produces a much more abrupt reaction. With that in mind, if the Taurus sales dropped off a cliff, what might have been the sudden change that repulsed buyers? The engine, drivetrain and chassis were broadly similar between ’95, the last year of the previous generation and ’96, the first year of the next. The only major change was…the styling. And major it was.

1997 Ford Taurus Sedan

In retrospect, it’s easy to pick out the flaws in the styling: An odd, alien look to the fascia, weirdly blended taillights, ubiquitous blob-like shapes and curves everywhere without a hint of tension to hold them together.

1997 Ford Taurus Interior

The interior had pretenses of being radical, but the interior volume was sacrificed in order to achieve the desired look on the outside, and the placement of the controls—although they looked superficially different—was profoundly conventional.

1997 Ford Taurus Wagon

The wagon deserves special mention. With the understanding that 1996 fell smack in the middle of the great SUV boom of the mid-late ’90s, when waves of buyers were abandoning station wagons in favor of trendy new SUVs, it’s difficult to size up the ’96 Taurus wagon and conclude it didn’t accelerate the exodus from the body style. It didn’t help, of course, that the previous-generation Taurus wagon was one of the most handsome, integrated-looking examples of the type, but the ’96 version seemed to go out of its way to estrange its buying public, with its weird flying-buttress C-pillars designed so that the wagon could use the sedan’s doors as a cost-cutting measure. Whatever cachet a wagon had—and it never had much—completely evaporated with the introduction of the seemingly backpack-laden vehicle shown above.

Overall, the ’96 Taurus was intended to be the vanguard of Ford’s new “bio-mechanical” styling direction. But it had the opposite effect: Its icy reception accelerated the automaker’s plans to introduce their much better-received New Edge aesthetic, a look which basically disavowed everything the ’96 Taurus stood for, visually.

It’s not that the car wasn’t considered ugly in its day—it was—but its looks weren’t always identified as the primary catalyst for its decline, which I believe they definitely were. Buyers frequently don’t know what they want, but they almost always know what they don’t want, and the looks of the mid-’90s Taurus certainly fell into that category for many.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

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A Turn For the Better

July 16, 2011 by Matt

After all my tirades and philippics this week, this Saturday being sort of gray, drippy and reflective like it is, I thought it might be worthwhile, for a change, to survey the automotive landscape and dwell on some unequivocally good developments.

Ford Mustang 2011

The Ford Mustang. Good golly, they got this one right. As has been observed, it’s the best looking car Ford has made in years. They’ve upgraded the interior materials, given it a wonderful pair of engines in the V6 and V8, tamed the live rear axle to the point where the car is a bona fide racetrack hero, and really honed the car’s details, like the particularly-tasty sequential rear turn signals. Even if the car isn’t single-handedly saving Ford’s bacon the way the minivan did for Chrysler in the ’80s, I’m convinced Ford is hugely benefiting, tangibly in terms of sales, and intangibly in terms of the halo effect, from the Mustang. No one can deny that the essential goodness of the car has given the automaker a massive boost in these economic doldrums.

Audi A5 2012

Audi’s new design direction. Oh yes. Ever since their B7 A4 led the automaker’s model range, somewhat awkwardly, to adopt a deep-grille fascia, I’d hoped it was a “transitional model” and that the company’s stylists would eventually smooth out and integrate that feature a little better. The B8 A4/S4 showed the first glimpse of that hope fulfilled, and with the upcoming arrival of the revised A5 and S5, the deep grille has fully matured, blending effortlessly into the cars lines, owing primarily to the addition of a small angle in its upper corners. Audi has come from behind in the ’90s to become the German Jaguar, leaping from one aesthetic peak to the next with their trend-setting, perfectly-penned interior and exterior design.

Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. After a too-long series of Euro-style luxury car flops, as much as I have a bone to pick with The General’s overall operations, it’s still somewhat gratifying to see one of their divisions get a car so absolutely right. All the goodies they shunned for years are there at last: 6-speed manual, RWD, excellent handling and a wagon body, topped with a generous helping of good ol’ American pushrod V8 power. It’s been a long, circuitous route, and we enthusiasts have been mystified for years by Cadillac’s dogged refusal to adopt the formula (manual, RWD, handling) that would have finally put them in the game vis-a-vis their foreign competition, but it’s nice to see them finally coming around, and how. Now watch GM ax their most promising car in years, just like they have so many times before. CTS-V wagon, mark my words: Your days are numbered.

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