Various automotive outlets reported Wednesday that General Motors and Ford plan to cull their slowest selling cars from their respective lineups. Given the double digit decreases in sales these four nameplates experienced over the last several years, this news shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. That doesn’t mean the cancellation of any of these models isn’t noteworthy.
There isn’t much to say about the Taurus that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll stick to discussing the current generation model. This is the last Ford sedan currently on sale that was explicitly designed for the North American market. It’s introduction happened a bit differently than previous vehicle debuts: various automotive blogs got their hands on a pretty clear picture of one in April 2008, over a year before its official reveal. That probably wouldn’t happen today. Nevertheless, the car that was in that picture absolutely stunned the internet, myself included. The 2010 Taurus may look ho-hum by contemporary standards, but Ford didn’t have many visually significant vehicles in its lineup at the time. And it was one of the first pieces of evidence that under CEO Alan Mulally, things would be different.
The Taurus hasn’t received any significant mechanical or visual updates since the 2013 model year, but it still has a few tricks up its sleeve. It’s the only mainstream, front wheel drive full size sedan with available all wheel drive. And the only one with a dedicated performance trim level. At one time it was the only full size sedan that could be had with a turbocharged four cylinder engine. And even without incentives, it’s also one of the cheapest. Police departments also have the option of picking a Taurus if desired.
Ford’s Fiesta also followed a similar trajectory in the United States. Like the Taurus, the Fiesta was revealed over a year before its debut in America. Obviously the circumstances were different, but the subcompact did receive a lot of hype prior to its arrival in the western hemisphere. European publications hailed the 2008 model as a watershed moment for the segment and front wheel drive vehicles in general. The Fiesta also made quite the impression on the folks behind Top Gear, and the segment where Jeremy Clarkson reviews the Fiesta by taking an example through a series of truly absurd circumstances is itself an important piece of modern automotive history. The video’s subsequent arrival on YouTube also illustrated the importance of the internet in automotive marketing. Ford likely understood this when creating the Fiesta Movement, a multi-faceted campaign where a number of internet famous individuals were given a Fiesta and encouraged to share their experiences online.
It’s a testament to the driving dynamics of the Fiesta that Car And Driver can review what is essentially a ten year old car and still come away impressed with how it acquits itself on the road. And the hatchback also set the visual standard for subcompact hatchbacks as well. Enthusiasts will decry the loss of the ST variant, and they’re justified in doing so, but the truth is that any combination of the Fiesta is fun to drive. And the spunky subcompact was more than just the sum of its parts, as its international rollout was also a reflection of the One Ford plan and the business acumen of Mulally.
While the Chevrolet Sonic never received the critical acclaim of the Fiesta, it did help improve GM’s reputation in the United States and elsewhere. Ford’s subcompact arrived in American showrooms with decades of heritage behind it, and its likely that a decent portion of Fiesta buyers had parents who were familiar with the first generation, which was sold in the United States from 1976 to 1981. Unfortunately for Chevy, they didn’t have that luxury, because the predecessor to the Sonic, the Aveo, was a truly horrid vehicle. The subcompact represented everything customers came to expect from General Motors: a cut rate interior, mediocre driving dynamics, and unrefined powertrains.
Like Ford, General Motors relied on its international assets to produce a small vehicle to compete with the likes of the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. GM Korea answered the call with the the new Sonic, which is still called the Aveo in its primary market. The current model pretty much cured all the ills of the previous model. Good looks, a very competitive powertrain, and a distinctive interior contributed to customers and the automotive press giving the brand a second look.
Chevy’s car lineup left a lot to be desired in the 2000’s. The Cavalier, Cobalt, and aforementioned Aveo never really threatened the American or Japanese vehicles they competed with in the marketplace. GM also turned to an overseas division to rehabilitate its standing in the American full size sedan segment. Opel created the Epsilon II platform for its Insignia in Germany, and the architecture underpins the current Impala. The sedan’s European roots definitely contributed to its positive reception upon its arrival in 2013, for the 2014 model year. In fact, the car was so well received it earned significant praise from Consumer Reports, which gave the sedan a 95 out of 100 rating, a superlative score that showed just how far GM had come in a few short years.
|Year||Chevy Impala||Ford Taurus||Chevy Sonic||Ford Fiesta|
One look at the table tells you all you need to know. All four vehicles currently sell at a much slower pace than they used to. The minimum percentage drop here is about 35 percent.
Why are automakers selling fewer small cars and sedans? The United States produces substantially more oil now than it did ten years ago. In 2007, American oil production averaged 5.074 million barrels per day. That output ballooned to 9.321 million barrels last year.
The price of Brent Crude generally sets the standard for global oil pricing. It’s precipitous drop off in early 2015 is another reason why Americans don’t need to sweat so much at the fuel pump.
It’s also impossible to ignore the effect the recession had on car buyers in America and abroad. There’s less need for entry level cars when those customers start being able to purchase something a little more upmarket.
And there are a plethora of other factors at play here. A certified pre-owned Fusion, Cruze, Malibu, or Focus can easily fill the gap left by these cars if and when they’re cancelled. So can crossovers. Product plans can only move so fast in the auto industry, which is why these cars didn’t appear until several years after the double whammy of the recession and the spike in oil prices. And that’s precisely why they’re being cancelled now. I’m sure we’ll soon be reading about what products will take over for these four cars at each of their respective factories, either by a leak or an official announcement from Ford or GM.
While these four vehicles ride off into the sunset, their legacies are worth remembering. With some or all of their platforms originating from international components, each nameplate reflected the importance of globalism in the 21st century. The Fiesta’s reintroduction into the United States was proof that Alan Mulally thoroughly vanquished the fiefdoms that hampered previous efforts to bring overseas assets to America.
Every vehicle in this group showed the world that American automakers were going to survive. The Sonic and Fiesta raised the bar for the subcompact segment. Downsizing didn’t mean a downgrade anymore. And the Impala and Taurus previewed both companies increasing competency with building bigger sedans, which would bear even more profitable fruit with the redesigned Fusion and Malibu.
I have no doubt that if these cars are living beings, their final thoughts will be filled with peace and purpose. Goodnight you princely foursome. The Force will be with you. Always.