If someone asked you what the most boring car was, what would you say? I’ve always said, “The Ford Taurus.” It now appears we have one in our garage. Yep, the Ford Five Hundred is going to be renamed.
Ford Revives Taurus Name
As Part of Marketing Shift
By JOHN D. STOLL
February 7, 2007; Page A4
Ford Motor Co.’s expected decision to revive the Taurus name comes amid growing concern among auto-industry executives about the burgeoning number of vehicle models competing for consumer attention in the U.S. market.
Company executives are expected to announce formally today at the Chicago auto show that Ford’s Five Hundred midsize sedan will be renamed Taurus, according to people briefed on the company’s plan. The move is part of a marketing strategy shift spurred by new Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally.
Ford’s decision to revive the Taurus name comes just months after putting an end to the Taurus sedan, which at one point was the best-selling car in the U.S. It launched the Five Hundred in 2004.
Market research consultants J.D. Power & Associates count 331 vehicle nameplates in the U.S. market, with 60 new models on the way. “How do you get a consumer to register that?” said J.D. Power senior vice president Gary Dilts, a former top Chrysler Group sales executive, at an industry conference last week.
Mr. Mulally has been a vocal advocate of the Taurus name since he arrived at Ford last fall. As a Boeing Co. executive, Mr. Mulally studied the Ford project that produced the original Taurus in 1986. Mr. Mulally has said Ford made a mistake by letting the Taurus wither and then abandoning the name, which is recognized by 80% of potential car buyers. By contrast, the Ford Five Hundred name has achieved recognition by just 30% to 40% of potential buyers, according to people familiar with Ford’s research.
The original Taurus’ rounded, aerodynamic design stood out from the mainstream midsize sedan market of the time, which was dominated by General Motors Corp.’s boxy, lookalike Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Buicks. For years, the two Ford plants that built the Taurus were among the most efficient car-assembly plants in the U.S.
Japanese auto makers Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. scrambled to make their competing Accord and Camry sedans more like the Taurus. In the late 1990s, following an unsuccessful redesign, Ford let the Taurus drift, focusing instead on sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks. Honda and Toyota, in contrast, kept investing in the Accord and Camry, and those two cars became the sales leaders in the midsize-sedan market.
By the time of its demise, the Taurus was sold largely to rental fleets. Still, with around seven million sold, the Taurus is one of the largest selling names in Ford’s recent history.
The Five Hundred, a larger car that Ford hoped would take on the role of high volume family car, has met a cool reception since its launch. In 2006, sales of the Five Hundred fell 22% to 84,218 vehicles, or about half as many Tauruses as were sold in the last year of production. Sales of the Five Hundred were down 51% in January from a year earlier, at just 3,526 vehicles. The Five Hundred shares many of its parts and a common architecture with the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle and the Mercury Montego sedan, all of which are built in Chicago.
–Stephen Wisnefski contributed to this article