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In the news, at the water cooler, and in your favorite auto magagine, there is no shortage of advice for Ford Motor Company. Advice for new engines, better marketing, and rear drive architectures come flowing in at all angles. Most of the advice seems to center around the need to balance design, safety, horsepower, and business realities to make vehicles that you and I will want to buy. But vehicle names? A recent Detroit Free Press article is one of many that seems to think name recognition is perhaps more vital than it really is. As we reported today, it looks like Ford is listening to the calls for the recasting of the Taurus name, after all. In the end, do we really care what the vehicle is called? We probably care a lot more about what the vehicle can do and how it looks.
When Allan Mulally took over at Ford, he found himself wondering why the company would spend hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years to build the Taurus name only to drop it because it didn't start with an F. The Five Hundred very well could have been the Taurus from the start, but it wasn't. Lets be honest, the Taurus wasn't the Taurus for almost half its lifespan. We loved it, then we liked it, then finally, we rented it. The product was stale. The name got stale too, mostly because it became synonymous with Hertz, so Ford decided to drop it.
Keep reading for more thoughts on what's in a name.
[Source: Detroit Free Press]
The Honda Accord name is nothing without great product
The Accord name has been around even longer than the Taurus. It's extremely successful too, mostly because the car has gotten better and better with each update, not necessarily because people recognize the name. The Audi A4 also has a name that people recognize. It works because many feel that "Audi" and "A4" stand for driving dynamics, quickness, quality materials, and good looks. No, not everybody likes the A4. Some would say that it has poor quality or an ugly grille, but the ones who actually purchase the A4 would probably disagree.
The Ford Freestar could have stayed the Windstar, as is argued in the linked article from the Detroit Free Press. Some here at Autoblog feel the Aerostar name should have never gone away in the firstplace. Would the Freestar still be selling right now if it stayed the Windstar, or even the Aerostar? Doubtful. The product just kept falling farther and farther behind the competition.
Newer entries from Ford like the Five Hundred, Fusion, and Edge are very good vehicles. The Five Hundred is extremely safe, reliable (Consumer Reports has recommended it) and it's priced reasonably. The problem right now is that it just isn't good enough and as a result it's not selling in large volumes. Instead of relegating it to fleet duty like Ford has done in the past, they have decided to make the vehicle better. Gone is the benign 3.0L and the much improved 3.5L has taken its place for 2008. The more expensive Aisin transmission is replaced with an all-new six-speed that was co-developed with GM. It also takes more risk in the styling department with the new three-bar grille, updated headlights and taillights, and quite a bit more chrome. And, as already stated, a new (old) name, Taurus, looks like it will make its return in conjunction with the updates.
In the end, what's more important, a great name or a great product? History has proven that a name alone means nothing. New Coke still said Coke, but people didn't like the taste, so they quit buying it. Does that mean you can change the name of the F-150 to the Pink Tulip? Probably not. And you wouldn't want to change the Mustang to Asphalt or Azz-Kika, either. Those vehicles have consistency behind them that give Ford the luxury to use the same name for dozens of years. Will the Five Hundred sell better if it's indeed renamed Taurus tomorrow? It's doubtful. Would a better Five Hundred mean more value for either name? You bet.