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Ford's Thunderbird Gets Axed
Forbes ^ | April 22, 2003 | Jerry Flint

Posted on 04/22/2003 7:32:35 AM PDT by Timesink

Forbes.com


Backseat Driver

Ford's Thunderbird Gets Axed

Jerry Flint, 04.22.03, 7:00 AM ET



The news is out and official. Ford will kill the Thunderbird.

I've been down this road before. The original little T-bird, a two-seater, came out in 1954. It wasn't really a sports car, but it was great-looking. Sales were never much--15,000 to 18,000 a year. So the moneymen made it into a four-seater in 1958. Sales went up, all right. Ford built 87,000 in 1960, but the car never looked so good again. Eventually the Thunderbird evolved into a mediocre, bloated car that was put out its misery during the reign of Ford (nyse: F - news - people ) President Jacques Nasser.

A few years back, and with great hoopla, a new, sleek Thunderbird was unveiled on the auto show circuit. The car returned to its roots as a smaller, stylish, two-passenger convertible. The production vehicle came out late in 2001, and it turned heads wherever it went. But Ford expected sales of about 25,000 a year, and the car never met this goal.

For starters, the new Thunderbird came out a full year late. So much time had passed from the unveiling of the show car to the release of production models that the buying public had lost some its enthusiasm.

Quality was also a problem. The plastic top (for winter) scratched the body. And Ford dealers got an early reputation for ripping off customers by overcharging for the car. Although the car's exterior was beautiful, the interior was a bit of a letdown, especially for a car with a $40,000 price tag. And the T-Bird could have used a bit more pep.

Selling a $40,000 car through the Ford channel may have also hurt the Thunderbird, which was far more expensive than its high-volume predecessor. Ford dealers have been successful selling $35,000 to $45,000 trucks but have little experience selling automobiles in the near-luxury price range. If there was a marketing effort by Ford Motor, I wasn't aware of it. Naturally, sales didn't meet expectations.

Ford figured it could sell 25,000 Thunderbirds a year at $40,000 apiece, but last year it moved only 19,000 cars. In first-quarter 2003 only 4,000 were sold. The automotive press went on a deathwatch.

Automotive News, the industry's fine trade publication, just reported that Steve Lyons, head of the Ford Division, said the Thunderbird run would end after four or five years, in 2005 or 2006.

"While it may go away for a short period of time, it may reappear from time to time," Lyons told Automotive News. "When you really stand back and think about the volumes we're trying to sell that vehicle in, it is meant to be a collector's item. And it doesn't have to have a production run every year."

Collectors' item? No, you don't sell 19,000 collector's item cars in a year.

I don't doubt for a moment that someone will suggest adding two backseats to the Bird to improve sales. Heck, someone will probably suggest making it a four-door. That happened once before, too.

Instead of fixing the Bird, making it right, selling it as it should be sold, Ford will kill it.

That's just part of the story at Ford product development. General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) has a low-volume car, too. It's called the Corvette. From time to time people have tried to kill the 'Vette. But people at GM seemed to understand that to kill the 'Vette would kill the company's spirit.

Ford is killing the Taurus, too. It will let the present model run until the rent-a-car companies don't want it. The replacement will be a smaller sedan, built off a Japanese Mazda platform, to be called the "Futura."

I think that some high-powered egos are at work here. The present management at Ford didn't create the Thunderbird. And the present management didn't create the Taurus. Rather than fix the problems, they'll start fresh with cars for which today's managers can take credit. That is, if these cars succeed.

These new managers also think that the names of Ford vehicles should start with the letter F. That's why the Windstar minivan is being renamed Freestar. And a new crossover wagon will be called the Freestyle. This strategy is silly and means nothing to anyone who doesn't work on executive row at Ford headquarters.

I remember when they killed the first two-passenger Bird. I thought that the car was beautiful. A Ford executive back then said, "Beauty is a good 10-day sales report." The original Thunderbird reminded people that Ford could build a beautiful car. Ditto for the short-lived new Thunderbird.

The news about its demise is ugly indeed.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News
KEYWORDS: ford; thunderbird
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1 posted on 04/22/2003 7:32:36 AM PDT by Timesink
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To: Timesink
The photo looks like it's a Chrysler product. Yeah, a "bloated" car, not at all like the original. What were the designers thinking?
2 posted on 04/22/2003 7:35:45 AM PDT by sarasota
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To: Timesink
You will see the name on a another design in about 5 years from now.
3 posted on 04/22/2003 7:35:57 AM PDT by bmwcyle (Semper Gumby - Always flexible)
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To: bmwcyle
You will see the name on a another design in about 5 years from now.

Yeah, but according to the article it will probably be called the "Funderchicken".

4 posted on 04/22/2003 7:41:19 AM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: Timesink
Indeed, they don't make them like they used to. Sigh...
5 posted on 04/22/2003 7:43:21 AM PDT by Lost Highway
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To: Timesink
Do you by a Thunderbird for $40,000 or Jaguar XK for $69,975?
6 posted on 04/22/2003 7:43:29 AM PDT by Jimmy Valentine's brother (MrConfettiman was in the streets while I was still yelling at the TV)
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To: sarasota
Probably the same idiots who ruined the town car for that bloated melted marshmallow exterior with the disapointment inside. Ford better get its act together or they will be in big trouble again. The only thing for is gaining a reputation for is trying to shrink the size of they cars bit by bit. BTW didn't they already make a futura. It was a boxy monstrosity.
7 posted on 04/22/2003 7:45:14 AM PDT by longtermmemmory
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To: Timesink
With the top up, you have to bend your neck at an uncomfortable angle to get in it.
8 posted on 04/22/2003 7:47:20 AM PDT by stevio
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To: Timesink
My first car was a '91 Thunderbird. My main attraction to it was that it looked good (for early to mid '90s standards). What a piece of crap though. If it wasn't one thing, it was two. Bad transmission, bad compressor, the power steering hose broke a lot, poor electrical design, alternator troubles, ect, ect. Just goes to show what happens when you don't take your father's advice...
9 posted on 04/22/2003 7:48:17 AM PDT by Welsh Rabbit
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To: P8riot
These new managers also think that the names of Ford vehicles should start with the letter F

What a dumb-dick idea. So typical of "management".

I can tell Ford one thing: They're selling F-trucks now, but they better get their quality control under control.

10 posted on 04/22/2003 7:48:39 AM PDT by banjo joe
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To: Timesink
$40K was WAAAAY to much for that car! If they had made them for $25K, they would have sold. I remember the original press release and the car was to be about $33K.

11 posted on 04/22/2003 7:50:13 AM PDT by PatrioticAmerican (If the only purpose of assault weapons is to kill lots of people quickly, why do police have them?)
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To: Lost Highway
even the insides under the hood were beautiful. Now the premium price is for the plastic panels. Someone told me that the jaguar two seater is really a taurus underneath? I have no confimation but I do not doubt it.

Ford makes the marauder.
Right idea but Ford lacks Focus.
12 posted on 04/22/2003 7:51:44 AM PDT by longtermmemmory
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To: Timesink
When FORD flew the Vietnamese flag at their corporate headquarters upon opening a plant in Viet Nam was the day I wrote off FORD. I wrote them a letter stating that my first car was a FORD and my last car was a FORD but I would never buy another FORD as long as I live. There are still thousands of unaccounted for POW's in Viet Nam. Semper Fi
13 posted on 04/22/2003 7:53:34 AM PDT by kellynla ( "C" 1/5 1st Mar Div '69 & '70 An Hoa, Viet Nam Semper Fi)
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To: Timesink
History of the Ford Thunderbird.
14 posted on 04/22/2003 7:54:03 AM PDT by Consort (Use only un-hyphenated words when posting.)
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To: Timesink
What will they rename the Mustang to? Fustang?
15 posted on 04/22/2003 7:54:39 AM PDT by FrankRizzo890
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To: Welsh Rabbit
My experiences with Fords have been all bad, T-Bird, Escort.
I guess the sayings hold truth:

Found On Road Dead
F--kin Owner Read Dumb
16 posted on 04/22/2003 7:55:36 AM PDT by weave09
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To: weave09
I concur, Fords in general suck.
17 posted on 04/22/2003 7:58:16 AM PDT by Moleman
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To: Welsh Rabbit
I had one of those too, mine had all the bells and whistles, power moon roof, super stereo, leather interior, abs, and those really great automatic seat belts. (I really liked those, who was the ford idiot who got rid of those?) Mine was a regualr workhorse, it ended with 157000 miles on it. If they were still making that style I would have bought another. I guess consistency in quality is not job 1. I don't know what my next car will be, but it will NOT be a cougar, a town car, continental or other neutered shrinked car.
18 posted on 04/22/2003 7:59:19 AM PDT by longtermmemmory
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To: Jimmy Valentine's brother
buy the buy, i by fords. (/s)

beginning w letter "f's", they're called "fixits."

seriously, if ford and gm are going to stay in the auto business then they need to offer something comparable to a toyota or honda. people that own these cars won't get out of them. sound strong?--a president of ford said the same thing recently concerning toyota and honda. he said they are both better cars than the taurus.

notice the new futura is built on a mazda platform, what's that tell you? the old, solid model-t feel will be out for the euro and asian feel.

i'm at the bottom of the food chain. i own a ford ranger.
19 posted on 04/22/2003 7:59:41 AM PDT by liberalnot
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To: Jimmy Valentine's brother
Do you by a Thunderbird for $40,000 or Jaguar XK for $69,975?

Ugh, neither! Buy a real car.

The recent Tbird models (not the new one) were a joke.

The recent Jags are stuck somewhere between sporty and luxury and can't make either work. I used to like Jags but I wised up and went for Volvos. Seriesly.

20 posted on 04/22/2003 7:59:52 AM PDT by JohnnyZ (Hollings is Foghorn Leghorn? Then who's Henry Hawk?)
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To: longtermmemmory
"Someone told me that the jaguar two seater is really a taurus underneath? I have no confimation but I do not doubt it."

I don't know either but the S series Jaguar looks a lot like a Taurus.

What a shame that one time great autos like Jaguar and Volvo are now Fords?

21 posted on 04/22/2003 8:01:36 AM PDT by Ramcat
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To: Timesink
The T-Bird doesn't concern me as much as the demise of the Taurus does. I was ready to buy my second Taurus when Ford redesigned it with the smily face look. I bought a Pontiac Grand Prix instead. Ford has since been running from that design. I won't even rent one when I have the option. BTW, how many American jobs will the replacement car cost when a Mazda platform is used? Just think, at one time Taurus sales exceeded those of the Honda Accord. This is a lesson in greed. Every Taurus model change was executed to make them cheaper to build, not better.
22 posted on 04/22/2003 8:04:28 AM PDT by Final Authority
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To: JohnnyZ
Sorry Johnny but your Volvo is a Ford.
I have a pre-Ford Volvo that I love but it's getting ragged and I'm looking at Saabs
23 posted on 04/22/2003 8:04:59 AM PDT by Ramcat
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To: weave09
"I guess the sayings hold truth:"

You missed a couple!

Fix Or Repair Daily.

First On Race Day. That one died with the first small block Chevy!
24 posted on 04/22/2003 8:06:11 AM PDT by dalereed
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To: Ramcat
is the s series the one with the "bunny rabbit" grill?

Auto makers will start winning the men over in loyalty when they get away from "feminizing" automobiles and start making cars men want to drive. Otherwise its just another four wheeled vehicle and loyalty is irrelivant. (the corvette was tweaked but it never left its roots.)

Does ford and GM design in house or do they subcontract. I heard they paid mercedez to design the short lived "merkur" series?
25 posted on 04/22/2003 8:08:09 AM PDT by longtermmemmory
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To: Timesink
Typical American cars. They all look like they were designed by bitter, cantankerous, old men. Plastic interiors from 70s era. And that damn Tbird looks like something out of my daughters Barbie collection. $40K?!?! And thats all they came up with???? No thanks, I'll buy a Beamer for that price.

Sorry, but the Euros have us beat hands down on styling, class, and dependability.
26 posted on 04/22/2003 8:08:15 AM PDT by Hammerhead
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To: weave09
I have had good luck with Fords. I was a Chevy guy big time, used to race them. Bought a new F-250 FWD truck in 77 because the Chevys and GMC's were such a POS that year. It was used as a hunting truck, race car hauler, boat hauler, in other words, it has been used as a truck. Both of my sons learned to drive in it. The youngest started driving it as his transportation when it had around 350k miles on it. The truck FINALLY died 2 years later.
This truck now has been refurbished with a 460, headers, rebuilt transmission, etc. The kid currently has a 90 Ranger that has survived quite nicely. We also have a 90 5.0 Mustang that runs quite nicely.
27 posted on 04/22/2003 8:09:09 AM PDT by wjcsux
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To: Final Authority
"Every Taurus model change was executed to make them cheaper to build, not better."

And therein lies the problem with most American automobiles. I bought a Toyota Camry that went 200,000 miles without a major problem and some high school kid is driving it now. Five years later I wanted to buy American so I got a Dodge Caravan. We had to rebuild the transmission (a common problme with Caravans) at 75,000 miles and the engine is starting to go at 100,000. I want to buy American but not at that kind of cost.

I now have my second Camry and the van will probably be replaced with a Subaru.
28 posted on 04/22/2003 8:10:19 AM PDT by kegler4
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To: longtermmemmory
"is the s series the one with the "bunny rabbit" grill?"

I guess you could call it that, but, that would be more complimentary than what I would call it .
29 posted on 04/22/2003 8:11:36 AM PDT by Ramcat
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To: Timesink
It may not be as good as it could be, but buy one
and drive it and keep it up, in ten years this car
will be worth more then it cost brand new.
Few new cars are worth veru much after ten years.
30 posted on 04/22/2003 8:11:43 AM PDT by HuntsvilleTxVeteran ( Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed.)
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To: Timesink; Constitution Day; HELLRAISER II
Bump!!
31 posted on 04/22/2003 8:12:15 AM PDT by billbears (Deo Vindice)
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To: kellynla
There are still thousands of unaccounted for POW's in Viet Nam.

All POWs have been accounted for.

There are still a couple thousand MIAs that a lot of folks WISH were POWs, but are almost certainly KIA/BNR.

32 posted on 04/22/2003 8:15:03 AM PDT by Poohbah (Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!)
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To: kegler4
If you baby & take very good care of a faggoty built like a toy in a box of crackerjacks ford, it might make 100k.

Do the same with toyota & the sky's the limit, easy to reach a million.

33 posted on 04/22/2003 8:16:06 AM PDT by norraad
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To: longtermmemmory
Right idea but Ford lacks Focus.

Funny you should say that--I drive a Focus ZX3, and my wife drives the SE wagon. We love 'em.

34 posted on 04/22/2003 8:16:38 AM PDT by Poohbah (Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!)
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Comment #35 Removed by Moderator

To: Nathaniel Fischer
Like Jags 4 Fags?
36 posted on 04/22/2003 8:18:14 AM PDT by norraad
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To: longtermmemmory
Yes and no.

This is the old Ford Falcon Futura.  The Futura suffix was tacked on sometime during it's production run.

1962 Ford Falcon Futura

This is the Ford Futura you can get down under mate:

 

37 posted on 04/22/2003 8:20:40 AM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Nathaniel Fischer
I here in Britain they've been calling them Fag-u-are.
38 posted on 04/22/2003 8:20:50 AM PDT by Welsh Rabbit
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To: Welsh Rabbit
here= hear
39 posted on 04/22/2003 8:21:17 AM PDT by Welsh Rabbit
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To: dalereed
First On Race Day. That one died with the first small block Chevy!

Which is, of course, why the fox bodied Mustang is the most popular car for hot rodders now, why the Mustang GT blows away any GM product but the Vette, and why you can get a 380 HP supercharged V-8 in an SVT Lightning pickup.

And, of course, why the only rear wheel drive car GM builds is the Vette.

40 posted on 04/22/2003 8:21:46 AM PDT by jimt (Is your church BATF approved?)
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To: Final Authority
This new TBird looks like the toy cars sold at Chevron. I think that's why it didn't sell. You can sell a car on "cute" or "sexy". You can't combine "cute" with a large price tag. "Cute" only works if it's economical or low priced.

I can't believe they're getting rid of the Taurus. I have a 1989 with 371,000 miles on it. It's a wagon and I put a lot of miles on it going to Rifle Matches.
41 posted on 04/22/2003 8:24:31 AM PDT by Shooter 2.5 (Don't punch holes in the lifeboat)
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To: Jimmy Valentine's brother
neither ...


yea, so it's a rainy PA day, and i'm dreamin' ...     

42 posted on 04/22/2003 8:27:30 AM PDT by tomkat
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To: PatrioticAmerican
$40K was WAAAAY to much for that car! If they had made them for $25K, they would have sold.

As long as they're paying UAW wages, that ain't gonna happen. Isn't it amazing that Honda/VW/Toyota can turn out quality product at affordable prices, but the Big 3 serve up crap year after year? Take a look at the entry-level autos for the major manufacturers. The American efforts are absolute garbage in comparison to their foreign counterparts. That's where you build your customer loyalty.

The new college grad that buys a Honda Civic that lasts forever isn't going to upgrade to a T-Bird; they'll look for something in the Honda product line. By the same token, the poor kid who gets conned into buying a Ford Focus is going to be waiting for the day he can get out of it, and out of Ford altogether.

43 posted on 04/22/2003 8:28:08 AM PDT by Mr. Bird
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To: Timesink
My friend has a '55.
44 posted on 04/22/2003 8:28:24 AM PDT by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Timesink
Snazzy looking car but a perfect example of how overpriced cars are in general! I love cars but wouldn't even consider spending $40,000+ for a car, at least not for one that is less than 40 years old!!!!
45 posted on 04/22/2003 8:29:27 AM PDT by NFOShekky (FOMOCO 4Ever)
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To: Hammerhead
see #42   
46 posted on 04/22/2003 8:31:11 AM PDT by tomkat
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To: Welsh Rabbit
I shared your experience. I bought a Thunderbird Turbo Coupe in 1985 (or thereabouts). Great power and acceleration when it worked, but just a series of annoying technical problems that the dealer never seemed able to fix. That was my first and last Ford product.
47 posted on 04/22/2003 8:31:14 AM PDT by blau993 (Labs for love; .357 for Security.)
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To: longtermmemmory
Feminized automobiles are a real problem. I want my A-H 3000 back!
48 posted on 04/22/2003 8:31:45 AM PDT by TexanToTheCore
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To: dalereed
First On Race Day. That one died with the first small block Chevy!

Interesting you should bring up the comparison. Back in the late 50's when drag racing was not yet professional-dominated we ran a '57 T-bird and a '57 Chevy in "C" gas. Doing one's own engines, costs were maybe $1,000 per car per season.

The problem quickly became trying to keep the T-bird Y-block V8 engine together. We couldn't run competitive without having to "overbuild" the Ford (forged chrankshaft, special rods, etc.) We finally gave up due to frustration and expense.

The Chevy, however, was very durable. The 283 cu. in. engine could be run with factory parts, other than camshaft, lifters, springs, etc. They Chevy would also easily run away from the T-bird, which had a 312 cu. in. engine but couldn't wind up as fast or as far.

Ford has not managed to keep up with GM engineering for as long as I've been driving. At this point I doubt Ford will survive in the long run, unless they get their engineering and quality-control acts together.

49 posted on 04/22/2003 8:32:48 AM PDT by toddst
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To: longtermmemmory
Ford better get its act together or they will be in big trouble again

I understand they are in trouble now.

50 posted on 04/22/2003 8:33:55 AM PDT by Tribune7
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