By 2003 the problems in Taurusland were more than apparent. The Taurus, the American car that gave the Honda Accord a thrashing, the car that was so advanced that it needed merely a paintjob and some minor bits of plastic to be the police car of choice in the futuristic Detroit featured in Robocop, had fallen so far down from its pedestal that now the people most likely to buy them were fleet managers. Fleet managers who were only asked to keep the rental desks across America eternally stocked with mid-size cars of whatever brand gave the best bulk deal. The Taurus name had fallen, and only new blood would help it recover some of its lost dignity.
Okay, maybe that is too dramatic an introduction, but the fact that the Taurus was on a place far far away from where it was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s still stands. But that’s not really the reason why the Taurus nameplate suffered its demise. No, the actual reason is much more…strange. I’m not sure how many of our esteemed readers are in marketing or in fields that relate to it. I know that to them I must occasionally seem ignorant, harsh or a combination of both since most of the time that I mention their profession is to point out some moves that to my untrained eyes seem bizarre and inexplicable. When I’m not washing about really old ads that is. But I’ll have to do it again, this time regarding the real reason ‘Taurus’ went on sabbatical. Ford’s ‘F’ Strategy.
Special Thanks to Brendan Saur for these images.
Basically what this meant was that to increase brand awareness and make Ford’s model names even more closely associated with the brand, Ford would rename their offerings with names starting with the letter ‘F’. Seems logical enough I guess and Ford needed some cash influx at the time so anything that could help was worth a try. But I can imagine that they ran into the problem that I’m about to tell you about because of the choices they made afterwards. The ‘F’ strategy, if completely implemented, would’ve killed three of the most recognizable model names in America.
The Crown Victoria may have probably survived the change relatively undamaged (and probably would’ve been renamed ‘Fairlane’); but how would you even go about renaming the Mustang. No matter what you did a lot of people would be very angry if you even tried. The third model name was Taurus, and in this case, with the image problems mentioned above and the desire to revitalize the brand. This is where the ‘F’ strategy would really come into play.
First off they would stop selling the Taurus to anyone but fleets, who were the ones buying most of them anyway. Then they would split the difference in the retail consumer lineup. Taking its place in the midsize segment there would be a new model that would attempt to do what the first-gen Taurus did all over again. Designed to be a class-leader, thoroughly modern and boldly-styled. It would also be the first glimpse of the new three-bar corporate styling. The first-gen Ford Fusion achieved everything it wanted to and more; and it remains a very good choice today if you’re in the market for a mid-size sedan. Our featured car was the other vehicle, a full-size sedan that would sell alongside the Crown Victoria for the buyer that wanted something more modern and wasn’t swayed by Panther love.
The Five Hundred (not 500) was the first Ford to be built from their Volvo-derived D3 platform. Ford got its hands on it after they bought the company in 1999 and it was by then already in use in the S80. Ford took the platform, made it cheaper and simpler to manufacture and locked it at a 112.9 inch wheelbase and used it to underpin their new line of large sedans and wagons. For power it had the slightly underpowered 3.0-liter Duratec engine mated to a six-speed automatic or a CVT and you could have either front-or-all wheel drive.
Unfortunately, it seems that they missed on the styling. It’s a subjective thing of course, but to my eyes it seems perfectly okay. The press agreed with me, saying it was a sensible design. Too sensible in fact, negative comparisons to the Audi A6 and the Volkswagen Passat were common. At around the same time Chrysler had released the 300 with more unorthodox styling and caused a small sensation in the market, so that couldn’t have helped either. This reflected on the Five Hundred’s sales numbers. 2005 was its best year with 107,932 sold (38,000 less than the 300). This would be the only year where it would sell more than 100,000 units. With criticism still pouring in over the styling and the powertrain Ford had to scramble back to the drawing board.
Then of course was the remaining criticism about the Taurus going away. Yes, the ‘F’ strategy had been successful in bringing life back to the midsize segment with the Fusion but the sacrifice to achieve it was incredibly frowned upon, which shows how much America loved the Taurus even as a shell of itself. Alan Mulally was one among those Taurus-loving Americans, so when he was named CEO of Ford in 2006 one of his first orders of business was to bring the Taurus name back.
And here’s where, I presume, they ran into another problem and the reason for my title. The obvious way to go around this would be to give a light refresh to the Fusion and rename it Taurus. But Ford had managed to make lightning strike twice and the Fusion had as much brand equity as Taurus and was recognized as a legitimate CamCordTima competitor. They’d be swapping a fresh model name that was having a lot of success with another one that at most would replicate that success after an unspecified amount of time. Fortunately, there was another car that hadn’t been as widely accepted as they had hoped.
The 2008 Taurus certainly solved the styling issues of the Five Hundred. The greenhouse remained of course but it was complimented by a more striking front end and a tweaked rear. It was enough to move it from “Volkswagen ripoff” to “Elegant yet restrained”. Under the hood Ford’s new 3.5-liter Cyclone engine gave it a performance boost to the tune of 60 horsepower and 42 foot-pounds of torque over the old Duratec. The CVT also went away and was replaced with a new Joint-developed six-speed automatic. It was a pretty good car to revive the Taurus nameplate, but it was only a stopgap. 2010 would bring us a new Taurus, and this time you definitely wouldn’t be able to confuse it with a Passat.