Skip to comments.Ford's Future May Rest on 2 Redesigns
Posted on 01/07/2007 7:50:16 AM PST by Flavius
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- The challenge from Ford Motor Co.'s top brass was daunting: Take an old car and a bland one and make them better. Don't change their basic frames and footprints, but make them look and feel new. And by the way, the future of the company is at stake, because if they don't sell, the automaker could run out of money.
hat's what Ford designers and engineers faced when they set out to update the aging Focus small car and the slow-selling Five Hundred full-sized sedan.
The company will unveil new versions of both models this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A lot is riding on them when they hit the showrooms later this year as 2008 models, especially if consumers continue to shift from trucks and sport utility vehicles to cars.
"Certainly there's pressure," Lon Zaback, chief designer of the Focus, said recently as he walked around the car explaining its new features. "I don't feel any anxiety about it at all because I think we've done a terrific job."
Ford has mortgaged its assets to borrow up to $23.4 billion to fund a massive restructuring plan and cover billions in losses expected until 2009. The company, which lost $7 billion in the first nine months of last year, expects to burn up $17 billion in cash during the next two years.
Analysts say the company desperately needs sales to raise cash if it hopes to survive.
The compact Focus, first introduced in 1999, now looks old and clunky. The Five Hundred generally is perceived as good but underpowered and pedestrian.
First the company did market research to figure out what needed to change.
With the Focus, Zaback and the redesign team knew they would be limited by the car's current architecture in their efforts to modernize the company's entry in the small car market.
They raised the sheet metal on the sides, shrinking the window size to give it a sloping, sportier look, with horizontal creases in the sheet metal. There's more chrome on the grille, mimicking Ford's successful Fusion mid-sized car, and the hood became more rounded.
"The car appears to be a little bit shorter and have shorter overhangs. It has a much more sporty appearance because of some of the proportional things we did with it," Zaback said.
The interior is simple but modern with nicer seats, lighted cupholders and more expensive materials including a brushed aluminum look for the dashboard and blue instrument lighting.
The new Focus also is among the models to get the optional Ford-Microsoft "Sync" system that integrates cell phones and personal music players into the car's electronics, something Ford hopes will appeal to younger buyers.
"There's a night-and-day difference between today's Focus and the new one. We really improved it," said Greg Burgess, the vehicle development manager.
While the designers were at work, engineers were busy going over all the existing car's parts, refining the two-liter four-cylinder engine, steering and suspension. Although horsepower figures weren't released, Ford said they made the car more powerful while reducing its weight by about 100 pounds. It will be at least as fuel efficient as the current model, which gets 37 miles per gallon on the highway, said Marcio Alfonso, the chief engineer.
The Five Hundred got a less-radical redesign with changes in the front grille and rear lights and fenders to make it look more sporty and more like the Fusion.
The body didn't change much, but the car gets a modernized interior and a new 3.5-liter V6 engine with 60 more horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission. It should be as fuel efficient and much quieter than the old one even though its zero-to-60 acceleration time is 1.5 seconds faster, Ford said. Market research showed that buyers thought the old versions were underpowered, Ford said.
It also will get optional electronic stability control, something that should get it back on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's list of safest cars, said Killol Bhuta, the car's marketing manager.
"It was always good. We just made it better," Bhuta said.
The Five Hundred, built on Volvo architecture, sold moderately well in 2005, its first full year on the market, but sales nose-dived last year from almost 108,000 to about 84,000, something Ford hopes the redesign will reverse. Focus also saw its sales drop last year to just over 177,000, down more than 100,000 from a peak of around 286,000 in 2000.
Ford said it hasn't set prices on either the Five Hundred, which hits showrooms in the summer, or the Focus, which comes in the fall.
Several analysts who have seen the new Fords say the changes are good steps but may not be enough to fend off sharper, newer designs from the competition.
Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for the auto consulting company IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, said the new Focus, for instance, still doesn't look as modern as Honda's Civic, which he considers to be the gold standard for small cars.
"It's a step forward, but it's not a dramatic leap," he said. "Unfortunately the competition is really moving forward in that segment."
He and Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst at Global Insight, an economic research and consulting company, said Ford may not have had the cash to redo the Focus completely, a charge that Ford denies.
Merkle said Ford could have brought the superior European Focus to America instead of remaking the U.S. version.
"Ford does a lot of things that sometimes I just scratch my head over," he said.
Lindland likes the new Focus but said the Five Hundred still is too conservative to set it apart from competitors.
"In order to attract people into a showroom, you need to have something that's going to turn people's heads," she said. "It's not cutting edge at all."
The people working on the new cars, though, think otherwise.
"Our mind-set hasn't changed regardless of what our financial position is," said Beth Donovan, Ford's small car marketing manager. "We want to win."
On the Net: http://www.ford.com
Too late! I've already bought my last Ford.
Every time you buy a Ford, you're subsidizing the UAW.
I think I'll pass.
You drop built in market share Taurus for the Five Hundred and now this revelation?
You need to 6-sigma white collar brains.
Liar. He's scared spitless.
Steward: "Captain Smith! We've struck an iceberg. The forward decks are filling with water!"
Smith: "Hmmmmm. Get a crew together and rearrange the deck chairs on the fantail."
I tend to agree with you giving money to the Unions is funding and empowering the dems.
I will stick with my Vette. :-)
Trying to spin "playing catchup" into "innovative"...
they have no hope
I just looked at the "spy" photos of these on edmunds.com. More of the same, in my opinion. They'll be offering rebates within a couple of months of rolling them out...
You probably service it yourself, also. Nerd.
"Don't change their basic frames and footprints, but make them look and feel new"
Shades of Packard, Studebaker, Hudson and AMC. And we all know where they ended up. There already is a superior Focus, in the European market. Why Ford doesn't just bring that model here is something of a mystery to me. Why Ford chose to allow the Taurus, once the top-selling sedan in the country, to grow long in the tooth, be relegated to almost exclusively fleet sales, and eventually fade away, is yet another mystery.
Sorry Ford but I bought a Hyundai last week. It was because of the excellent quality, extended bumper to bumper warranty and mileage.
There's a formula for you. I'll keep my truck!
If Ford goes a lot of leftist causes are going to lose a significant contributor.
Fords strategy has worked for volkswagen/toyota/nissan/honda/mercedes
Take a reasonable car (insert one here, say VW bug/corona/510/civic/Bclass)
and continue to improve it, eventually it gets to be RELIABLE,
and people will invest in it...that becomes your HALO car,
and then you can build off of that...the idea of introducing
reliable,new cars at once although interesting, doesn't get
the bulk of buyers, housemarms, students, and work-a-daddies.
Corvette is cool cause they took the basic same model, and
constantly tweaked, and twaddled till they got the Z06 which
is almost as super as any car....I hope the UAW, and Ford
is learning that the unions know nothing about creating jobs that
will be successful in the market place....hopefully the UAW
is realizing that it is "striking" itself out of existence.
21st Century Edsel!
I just got one, too. Good car.
Ford isn't quite as bad as GM, but they do seem to be in the business of creating one debacle after another. I have an 1997 F150 with a 4.2L. Look up "Ford 4.2L Hydro-locking" on google--there are literally thousands of people with this engine problem. And it's just one of many for Ford. They can redesign the exterior until they're blue in the face and it won't fix the problems under the hood.
Are you as concerned about other things your dollars may support as you are about unions?
You may not like them, but union workers here are your fellow Americans, and they spend their earnings here, and pay their share of taxes here, and companies like Ford and GM do too.
"Take a reasonable car (insert one here, say VW bug/corona/510/civic/Bclass)
and continue to improve it"
Bingo. You have to start with a reasonable car. Ford didn't. The 500 is one of the worst cars ever. If you start with an Edsel, you will still have an Edsel when you are finished.
The latest Mustang was a good idea. The Focus may be salvagable. The 500 is a turkey.
The main problem here is that Ford has not had "a better idea" in 40 years. The low price market has gone to the Koreans. Since Ford can't compete in the low price market, they are stuck with competing against Toyota, Honda and Nissan. No contest. Ford loses.
My Ford is a 1988 F-250 diesel, with 180,000 miles on it. Only my "new" 2002 Jeep has fewer, with 52,000.
'93 Geo Metro with 215,000
'95 Chevy S-10 Blazer with 220,000
'87 P-30 Chevy/Grummon stepvan with 500,000 miles on the chassis (300,000 on the motor)
'80 Chevy Malibu with 200,000+ (converted to right-hand drive for mail delivery)
'66 International M-800 Metro-Mite with over 200-300,000 miles on it (I have no idea how many times the odometer has rolled over, only that I've put 130,000 of those miles on it)
Last but not least, a '80 Mercedes 240 diesel with 450,000 miles, only thing that's been changed is the clutch (3 times)
Personally, I like the Ford trucks more than their cars....
When Ford downsized the Taurus(which was number one car in US market)..they lost their market share. I really liked the final version of the larger Taurus. Had two as company cars and drove them a total of 150k. When they downsized I chose the Intrepid and others went to the Camry.
End of story.
Our friends will not even look at American cars..I think Ford is doomed.
"When Ford downsized the Taurus"
I didn't know they ever downsized the Taurus. Really?
The "tall sedan" was supposed to appeal to SUV owners, who were accustomed to a more commanding view of surrounding traffic, as well as to older people who have difficulty getting in and out of a more traditional, lower seating position. Funny, they're not marketing it that way. The styling is inoffensive enough, but they continued with the rounded theme at a time when the market is going for a more defined, linear look. It looks dated, in other words. The underpinnings are from the Volvo S-80, which is a good, solid, well-engineered car. Too bad they put that anemic, pushrod V-6 in it. My folks are the target market, they always buy American; they took a look at the Five Hundred, test drove it and didn't like it. They bought an 06 Impala LT.
Today, both Chevy and Ford (and to a smaller extent Daimler-Chrysler) are struggling to survive, while Toyota and Honda are grabbing market share.
Whoever lived and drove a car in the '70s has seen this happen before, when GM made 5 different cars, and just put a different name on the grill....
I like my Ford 500 although after having 2 buicks I agree with the power issue.
I also had one of the first year's of the Taurus line back in the 80's - loved the looks and interior but the engine ate oil. When they "slimmed" them down though, IMO they ruined the looks and my sister says she has vision problems with hers (blind spots) and won't let the kids drive it.
I love my Vette. :-)
I didn't see any reference to the workers in the previous posts. Nice straw man, though.
Are you crazy? Ummm... don't answer that. ;-) (J/K)
I don't even change the oil myself. However, I do put in my own gas at the gas stations. LOL!
In 1986 after graduating from college and getting my first professional position I bought a new Ford. It was a a car from hell! From driving it off from the Ford Dealer's lot having the radio failed on the drive home to having the transmission fail within the first three thousand miles, taking it back to the dealer numerous times to for virtually every problem and than eventually getting into a horrible accident (after which I went through 18 months of physical therapy) due to the brakes failing with less than 10,000 miles. Yes, the state I lived in even did an investigation into the accident I was in and found that it was the fault of FORD for putting on faulty mechanics for the brakes on my Ford. \
After my accident I took the information on the accident and went to the dealer, Ford and talked with the Ford Zone representative. The Ford Zone Representative laughed at me and said you can sue Ford, we will tie it up in court and you will get nothing because we have deeper pockets than you have.
I will never ever under any circumstances buy another FORD!!!!
I HOPE FORD GOES OUT OF BUSINESS!!!!!!!!!
Hey Ford you screwed me! I hope you go out of business!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I WILL DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO TELL EVERYONE WHAT GARBAGE YOU PRODUCE! I HOPE TO STOP EVERYONE WHO I KNOW IS CONSIDERING PURCHASING ONE OF YOUR PIECES OF GARBAGE!
OTOH, if I had the disposable cash, there would be a Ford-GT sitting next to my Vette.
The Taurus started slipping with that peculiar re-style, with all the ovals, everywhere, on the dash, the back window, the headlights ... it looked sort of like a catfish from the front. The car my folks traded was a 95 Taurus, which was a good car for them, for the entire time they owned it, no problems to speak of. It was just about to turn 100K, and the headliner was starting to let go, so they went shopping for a new car. They didn't care for the last iteration of the Taurus at all, the Fusion was too small, and the Five Hundred was too big. They were looking for something about the size of their 95 Taurus, which could seat five in reasonable comfort, but got good mileage and was easy to maneuver and park. The only domestic that fit the bill was the Impala. They like it well enough, but they're not elated with it, as they were with the Taurus when they got it new.
Oh, the reference to unions didn't include the union workers? Nice try.
Re the Taurus--What was Ford thinking? And what were they thinking with a $40,000 T-bird?
What model of Ford was this?
Keep looking at them.
Most of the people who sell and service union made cars are not in unions either. Also there are many shops that make parts for these cars that are non-union. So, people can support overseas makers if they want, but it does affect all Americans in some way.
Yeah, because all of the successful companies are run by blue collared six sigma brains (/sarcasm)
Speaking of CAD design, I think you should look at the new Caddies. CTS and XLR look pretty good to me especially the turbo models.
Ford trucks are good.