Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Forbes' Jerry Flint has his say on Ford again, and I have my say as well

Jerry Flint a respected journalist at Forbes magazine has his say on the state of Ford Motor Company (link above) and I have my two cents here. Mr Flint starts out by saying Ford's new product program is in disaray.

"Dead and bungled product programs are scattered around the Ford landscape. Casualties include the Ford Thunderbird and Taurus, the Mercury Sable and the Lincoln Blackwood and LS. Rumor has it that the Ford Freestyle is also on the endangered list"
Jerry makes some good points here, the Thunderbird, Ford's first "retro" effort was overpriced, underpowered and poorly marketed. So the Thunderbird name goes back into the "vault". The Taurus/Sable which were the benchmark that the Camry and Accord were to meet, was left to wast away, and now the name has become poison. So bad did Ford let the Taurus/Sable twins decline, that they needed not one but two replacements for the one time leader of mid size sedans, the 500 and now the Fusion. The Lincoln Blackwood, well I've never understood the need for that one, but Ford has given it another shot with the Lincoln LT version of the Ford F150 pickup. The LS (pictured above) was a clear example of how it shouldn't be doen. Ford brings out a great platform, the competition answers, and Ford doesn't improve anything, just lets it linger and fail. The LS should have been given more power and better marketing. So so far, I would agree with Jerry.

"Ford's current lineup tells us why the company is in so much trouble. Let's start with the Ford Focus, which is a decent-but aging_ small car. Key competition, including Chevrolet, Dodge, Honda Motor and Nissan, all have new cars on the market or due in the near future."
"... The Ford Fusion, ... the company is staking it's future on the Fusion and it's sister cars, ... seems a bit tight, and it's V6 is underpowered, ... even the Hyundai Sonata outguns it."
"The Ford 500, ... is underpowered and looks dull."

Again, Jerry isn't far off the mark here, the Focus is not really competative with all new designs and models like the Civic and Cobalt, but the Fusion is off to a good start. His opinion on the 500 is a little harsh and his statement about the Fusion and 500 being underpowered has been said many times. Even favorable reviews of the Fusion have pointed out this deficit of power. Hopefully the new 3.5 V6 will solve this problem.

"Consumers are flocking back to modern rear-wheel-drive sedans such as the 300 from Chrysler ... Ford has it's big--but ancient--Crown Victoria, along with it's siblings, the Mercury (Grand) Marquis and the Lincoln Town Car.... So What about updating the Town Car? I hear Ford is preparing an all-wheel-drive luxury model, but one that comes from the Ford 500... Such a car is unlikely to be popular with the core buyers of today's Town Car."

I don't know if people are "flocking" to the new Chrysler 300 ( and it's siblings Dodge Magnum and Charger) But they are doing a brisk business.
There can be no denying that the Panther Platform, Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, are getting long in the tooth, a chassis that dates back to 1979 with no major redesign. I also strongly agree with Jerry about the replacement for the Town Car based on the 500.

"... Ford used to sell 40,000 copies per year of it's Ford Ranger small pickup, but entries from Toyota and General Motors are now outselling this old, old truck."

Preach on Jerry, I'm with you on this one. How does for allow this one to happen. The Ranger which was the best selling compact truck for about 15 years, now lingers near the bottom of the pack. Outclassed, outpowered, with no crew cab option, the low price being the only reason it still sells in any numbers. Ford has been putting off a redesign for years.

"The company is also missing opportunities to boost sales at it's Mercury division, which tends to perform best when it accepts it's role of selling dolled up Ford models, instead of trying to be something totally different. ... Mercury needs a version of the Focus and Mustang."

Jerry, what happened, I thought we were so close, how could you have gone so far from reality. Haven't we learned, rebadged Focus, like this Tracer pictured will not be enough in this market. Mercury needs a stronger brand identity, maybe even to move upmarket. Jerry, I'm not following your logic here.
And as for a Mercury version of the Mustang, I've said it before, I'm not real warm to the idea. I absolutely hate the Mercury Messenger concept based on the Mustang.
My compormise for a new Mercury Mustang would be something that would be strongly styled after the original 1967 Mercury Cougar, with the formal upright roof and even the hiddent headlights and sequential tail lights. Give it a higher level of content than Mustang with an available moonroff and DVD navigation system. Do it right or dont' do it at all.

"The Ford Focus needs a major overhaul--and fast. I say let the American design studio do it and forget about rehashing small cars from Mazda or Ford Europe."

Jerry's half right, the Focus needs a redesign. Well we need the redesigned Focus is more like it. Pictured here is the 2005 Ford Focus that we get, a "freshened" version of the first generation Focus. Pictured below is the new CD-1 Focus that the rest of the world gets.
I can agree in principal with Jerry's statement about "rehashed Mazda or Ford Europe" models. In the past Ford has relied heavily on this fall back position for small cars, like the Escort. But in the case of the CD-1, I don't see anything "rehashed" about it. This platform already sold here on these shores as the Mazda 3 and Volvo S40 is fantastic. And as partiotic as it sounds, letting the "American" design studio try and bring out a better Focus is just plain stupid. The answer is right here, the Focus that the world gets.
"Although a Ford 500 reskin is in the works, the company should make sure it has pizzaz. And the 500 needs more kick..."
OK Jerry, we hear you, you think the 500 is underpowered, and plain. Well I've heard that the "reskinned" 500 will borrow cues from the 427 concept shown here. In the least the three bar chrome grill will show up. And as for power, not only is the new 3.5 V6 coming soon, but in the future a version of the V8 from the Volvo XC90 ( which is built by Yamaha and is basically an updated Taurus SHO motor) will appear in variations of the 500.

"Ford is pushing forward with plans to expand Hybrid production. That is a good plan, but what about other fuel saving technologies such as cylinder shutdown on Ford engines? "

Jerry, it's true that Ford is getting ready to roll out Hybrids in force, expanding from the Escape to it's siblings the Maringer and Tribute and even the Fusion and possibly the new Edge.
As for other technologies, Direct Gasoline Injection just appeared on the Mazdaspeed 6 and it's a good guess that this will find it's way into other Ford and partner vehicles over the next few years. The new 3.5 V6 was designed with Direct Injection and Turbocharging in mind. Now I'm not 100% sure, but the engines that have Cylinder Deactivation like Chrysler's Hemi are older style pushrod engines, so far I dont' believe any overhead cam engines utilize this technology. I believe it has to do with the camshafts and rollers. But fear not Jerry, I've read on Autoblog and elsewhere, that the future of engines is cam free. With this new cam-less engine cylinder deactivation will be possible, as well as better fuel economy because of less moving mass. But Ford has also been researching alternative fuels like Hydrogen and with their new "Driving American Inovation" pledge, we look forward to great things from the blue oval. Give it some time Jerry, Rome wasn't built in a day.

"Finally, Ford should find a way to update Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car, with a new rear-wheel-drive architecture. That's where the money is."

Jerry, I'm not sure I agree with your last statement "That's where the money is" but there is no denying that this platform which has paid for itslef many times over is in dire need of a propper replacement. I've often said that the Australian Falcon should be imported over here, the design, not the car. But regardless of where it comes from Ford needs to do something.

"And if Ford doesn't have the money for a full overhaul, it needs to tweek the Ranger pickup and make it competative again."

Jerry, what happened to "Finally" ? But you are correct, Ford needs to bring out a new more powerful Ranger with a Crew Cab option. I like this rendering I found on BlueOvalNews by FUD. It's obviously based on the new Explorer, which is appropriate, since the original Explorer was based on the Ranger. A new Ranger off this chassis would allow for a V8 option and hell this one just looks great.

Just for the record, I don't have any particular bone to pick with Mr Flint, I enjoy his articles very much. I also have no illusions about my own abilities or expertese, but hell isn't that what blogs are for? So the "average Joe" can have his say, just like highly respected journalist?


Dave T said...

well I guess no one wants to build a compact truck anymore and if they moved to what they call "mid-size" it could hurt F-150 sales, that are vital to Ford's bottom line. These companies don't sneeze without looking at the bottom line.

As for the focus they're probably waiting to see what happens with the new sub-compacts like Aveo and Scion to plan their next move. the problem there is they should be innovating. not following. Would a sporty Euro focus do well here? Doubtful .

And flint is wrong about why people buy the 300C. I'm guessing most buyers don't even know it is rwd when they go in the showroom. The fusion is doing well because of its looks & price. not drivetrain.

Ford isn't in a horrible spot. Now that Gm is tanking Flint has to find a new target. Lets see if all the american companies can go bankrupt. sheesh.

Big Ford Fan said...

Dave, you have a point about the move to "mid-size", but the fact that the Ranger once dominated the "compact" truck market and now lanquishes, should be addressed.

I've said before, that Ford needs the crew cab option and just a bump in power. The Diesel wouldn't hurt either.

The Euro Focus would do as well here as the current Focus, probably better. But the competitor for the Aveo and Scion will be the new Fiesta, not the Focus.

As for the 300, I think you're right, people guy them because they're a fresh design, the rear wheel drive is just a bonus.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article... right in line with my own thinking.

Honda OHC V-6 has cylinder deactivation - so it is done. Ford has said in public they can do it too... but then Ford's engines are quickly falling behind. The modular V-8 line is in very sad shape these days.

The Ranger is an interesting issue... is it worse than the 'vic or vice versa? Both are symptomatic of what's wrong with Ford.

The next Ranger could be nothing more than a shortened Explorer... which would match up very well (and better, since it's an excellent platform) with the competition. The GM trucks in this size range are fine mechanically... but are almost the ugliest things GM has.

Had an interesting talk with a Ford engineer a little while ago... while I can't go into details I did find out that a Ranger replacement is planned yet again (of course these days who knows where the budget is) - but it will have to share a single platform and suspension worldwide. That's what I was told... keep in mind that there are currently a couple of different platforms worldwide all labeled "Ranger" and apparently somebody has an idea of doing this with 1 response (Nissan and Toyota does, why can't Ford?). The term "worldwide" to me means low common denominator for the places where a truck is still a truck (aka where it would actually be used as a truck). Furthermore that says the Explorer platform would be too expensive.

So, IMHO, that means we likely won't see a shortened Explorer as a Ranger.

Personally, I'd like to see something smaller than the gargantuan F-150. That thing is rediculous.

On the Focus, we had the same one as Europe did for years... but couldn't build it with anywhere near approaching the same quality (neither this Focus, nor the first Escort). I've seen interviews which say that is the reason for the delay in gettting the new platform... personally I would think that Volvo and maybe Mazda put some pressure on the parent company to keep the chassis exclusive for a while. Sensitive political subject - look at Jag. Keep in mind, too, that in Europe the Focus-type class is much more up-market and important than it is here in the US. Same for the Contour - look at the options the Euro model had (Mondeo) that we never got (see the Contour enthusiasts site for Mondeo product catalogs). I think we can all say we'd like to see an upmarket Focus in our market, but up to the point where gas hit 3 bucks/gal there wasn't any audience for an upmarket Focus. Even the SVT Focus was obsolete and uncompetitive since the day it came out (and would be pointless now). The C1 chassis is the best move Ford (third try?) has made to getting competitive... but even it's getting old.

(950 blogs, 5500 images and 1500 pages - whew)