As recent financial results have shown, reviving Ford Motor's North American operations is about more than just downsizing production capacity and increasing efficiency. Disappointing sales results are focusing the spotlight increasingly on Ford's promises of new, innovative products.

Ford is in a deep hole, with its minivans out of favor with consumers, only its aging Focus to combat the small car onslaught from other manufacturers, and even its stalwart F-150 pickup under fire from newer competitors.

Ford's problems with B-segment small cars highlight the automaker's challenges. Ford Americas president Mark Fields promised an aggressive attack on the booming small car market segment as recently as his keynote address at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show in January, but Automotive News reported Monday that Ford's current product plans show that new B-segment cars will not debut until the 2010 and 2011 model years. Among other things, Ford is struggling with defining the target markets for its small cars, with options ranging from low-priced, entry-level models to more upscale competitors for BMW's MINI. Or... Ford could simply rebadge a B-segment import, as Chevy did with its Aveo, in which case a 2007-2008 launch is possible.

[Source: Automotive News - sub required] Meanwhile the Focus lives on, with a restyling planned for the 2008 model year and an all-new model planned for early in the next decade, based on the next-generation European model (rather than the current Euro-spec version, deemed too expensive for the North American market).

With competition looming from Dodge and Chevy, the Mustang will keep its current look until the 2010 model year, when we can expect a restyled version. Bigger engines are planned though, with 6.2-liter and 5.8-liter powerplants rumored to be coming out of Ford's "Hurricane" engine program. Automotive News suggests that Ford may revive the legendary Boss badge for the big-engine models. More nebulous are a Mercury version of the Mustang and a Lincoln coupe based on the pony car platform, both just at the design concept stage.

The bottom line: With product challenges across the board, even the most aggressive new product development program seems likely to find Ford lagging the competition in some market segments, which probably means we can expect further erosion of Ford's market share in North America.

[Source: Automotive News]

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