- Oct 13th 2006 at 7:59PM
What if... Ford had made all the Right Moves
If Ford had made all the Right Moves from around the turn of the century to the present, it wouldn't need a Bold Move to pull it back from the brink. This post will imagine a Ford lineup of today that could have been had the Blue Oval been bold back then. Such a lineup, we believe, would have made Ford a top contender today in terms of product. Instead, for many reasons, Ford is forced to turn itself around while mired in a product lineup that's ill suited for today's tastes. So let's put on our imagination caps and envision the lineup that Ford took a pass on.
We'll begin in the full-size sedan segment, where currently the Ford Five-Hundred and Mercury Montego are treading water. In 2003, Ford debuted the 427 Concept at the North American International Auto Show, a slab-sided rear-wheel drive sedan with tasteful retro styling cues and a honking 590-horsepower V10. It was well received, and then forgotten. The following year Chrysler began selling the 2005 300C, a slab-sided rear-wheel drive sedan with tasteful retro styling cues and available V8 power. Ford missed the boat big time here. In our imaginary lineup, the Ford 427 would be the Blue Oval's flagship sedan, either produced on the same platform as the new Mustang (four-door Mustang?) or the Australian-built Falcon. In fact, if Ford had the foresight and desire, it could have found in the 427 a replacement for the Crown Victoria, as well. In our lineup, one big rear-wheel drive sedan atop Ford's lineup would replace both the Vickie and the Five-Hundred. One day the Crown Vic will have to be replaced anyway, and law enforcement and taxi services are just going to have to deal with it. After the 427 had established itself in the marketplace, Ford could then have worked on switching over its fleets customers to the new model, replacing Crown Vic production with more capacity for the 427.
Speaking of the Ford Five-Hundred, this large sedan with Passat styling should have never been a Ford at all. The decision to produce it seemed to come at a time when Ford didn't have a cohesive plan for its products, so it was given the green light, along with the Freestyle and Mercury Montego, and so Ford's stuck with it now. But all is not lost, as there is room for these vehicles in our imaginary lineup. The Five-Hundred and Freestyle should have never come to be, at least now with Blue Ovals badges, but giving Mercury the Montego and the Meta One (shown), a version of the Freestyle built just for Merc, would have been the right move. With the Montego and Meta One, Mercury would have a pair of unique vehicles all their own, something that without which the brand remains a parasite on Ford's own products. The Five-Hundred/Montego and Freestyle are good products, which is why they remain in our lineup (just not in Ford's), but Ford didn't believe in Mercury enough at the time, and still doesn't despite claiming all the while that the brand is viable.
Moving down a segment we reach the Fusion, which is a great Ford product. As a matter of fact, its design was clearly inspired by the 427 Concept, though it should have come out after the 427 had reached production as a larger, rear-wheel drive sedan and established itself as the new hotness. Again, let's look at Chrysler, which delivered unto us the 300C and the Dodge Charger, and now we're being given the front-wheel drive Avenger that steals all its great styling cues from the in-your-face Charger and packages them in a more accessible platform. Ford had this opportunity and passed. But alas, the Fusion arrived without a big brother, but it's attractive, has good handling and is the best built Ford in ages. Despite the cries of many, including myself, that Ford should bring over the next generation Mondeo from Europe, we're going to make the call that the Fusion can handle the mid-size front-wheel drive segment for Ford in North America just fine on its own. So the Fusion stays, although in our lineup there would be no balking about offering it with the new, more powerful 3.5-liter V6. It would have launched with this engine and all-wheel drive as an option. Would Mercury still get the Milan? We'll leave that up to you, but it needs something to offer below the Montego, that's for sure.
The Focus. Not much else needs to be said about this car. Our current Focus was a contender back in the day. It performed well in the marketplace, despite some quality issues early on, and got Ford back in the game at the lower end of the spectrum. But let's face it folks, the Euro Focus built on the C1 chassis should have replaced our current Focus by now. It's in our imaginary lineup (along with a new SVT version!) and we're certain there's a market for premium small cars that could support it. The argument that customers here don't want to pay more for better built small cars is bunk. The fact is, each generation of a vehicle gets larger are more expensive than the last, and by now the Focus should be as large and expensive as its Euro-counterpart. It should be its Euro-counterpart. Instead, development of the Focus has slowed to a trickle, and I'm hard pressed at the moment to think of another small car that hasn't been substantially redesigned since the Focus debuted in 2000. Even the Sentra's all-new! It's the oldest car on the block and has no place in our lineup in its current form.
Now we go even further down the lineup where currently resides a large, vacant hole. Again we look across the pond where Ford of Europe has not one, but two small cars available: the Ford Fiesta and Ka. We would cherry pick the larger Fiesta for our lineup, because we don't think Americans are quite ready for a real minicar, but by this time Ford would have a diesel engine on the ready for the 2007/08 model year and have a compact capable of 60 mpg on the highway. Prius, who? Mark our words, whoever is first to offer North American customers a small, diesel-powered car that can equal or exceed the economy of that most beloved hybrid will make a huge impact. Plus, the market is ripe for a competitor to the MINI that captures that car's charm and razor handling, but offers it for less.
What about the upcoming production version of the Fairlane Concept? Development of that vehicle should proceed, as we would market it as Ford's answer to the modern minivan, a decent example of which the Blue Oval was never able to produce. However, in our lineup the Fairlane wouldn't be sitting on a dealer lot next to the Freestyle, which is pretty much the same thing but a little smaller. The Freestyle would be over at the Mercury dealership, leaving the Fairlane alone to attract customers seeking something different from a minivan and not quite a station wagon from Ford.
Finally, we come to the Mustang. The Mustang is literally Ford's only homerun in the last few years. It's receiving constant attention and development, despite lacking any direct competition for at least another two years, and for the past couple of months has been Ford's best selling passenger vehicle. The Mustang, however, should have been developed in conjunction with other products, like the 427 and, perhaps, a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan for Lincoln to properly replace the LS and/or Town Car. In our estimation, not developing the Mustang in conjunction with other products to distribute the burden was a big missed opportunity, and a particularly sad one. Ford was the only mainstream domestic brand that didn't completely abandon the rear-wheel drive platform at some point in the last decade. Chevy did. Dodge did. But Ford carried on with the Mustang and Crown Vic. Unfortunately, it developed the Mustang in isolation and has nothing to share now that rear-wheel drive is back in vogue.
So there you have it. Gone would be the Crown Vic, Five-Hundred and Freestyle, and instead Ford's lineup of passenger cars would include the rear-wheel drive 427, front- and all-wheel drive Fusion, C1-based Focus and Fiesta from Europe, and the Mustang. Meanwhile, Mercury would be offering the Milan, Montego and Meta-One, perhaps all with available hybrid drivetrains to further separate Mercury's image from that of Ford's. Lincoln would also likely keep its MKZ/Zephyr, but would have another, larger rear-wheel drive sedan in place of the now defunct LS and aged Town Car.
We haven't discussed trucks, SUVs or CUVs at all in this post, which we'll address in a later one. And keep in mind, we know nothing of the logistics that would have been required to pull off a lineup like this, but we can't imagine it would have been as difficult as what faces Ford today. We're curious to hear your thoughts, though. Imagine your own dream Ford lineup that could've been. Would it look like this one?