At Ford, scrapping sedans is too easy, and a mistake

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A 2008 Ford Taurus which underwent crash safety testing on display at the 2008 New York auto show. The Taurus, America’s best-selling car for five straight years in the 1990s, is being discontinued again. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

UPDATED: 4/27/18 9:47 am ET – correction

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended to note that Toyota’s first vehicle in the United States was the Corona.

Ford Motor Co. is making a big mistake reducing its Ford brand car offerings to just the Mustang and a version of the Focus.

Here’s why: Such a vacuum opens the door to more competitors, such as Chinese automakers, who will see an opening in the market and rush in to fill it.

There has always been – and always will be – a market for small, fuel-efficient entry-level cars. Though they might not be hugely profitable, they are necessary in Ford’s showroom. History shows us why. In the mid-’60s, Toyota got rolling in the U.S. with the Corona, a small, fuel-efficient and inexpensive high-quality compact.

Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had nothing like the Corona. Look how that one seed grew. Toyota and Lexus are a colossus in the United States. More recently, Hyundai and Kia started off in the U.S. with small, inexpensive cars and used them to grow businesses that now compete in nearly all market segments.


A 2011 Ford Fiesta at the 2010 Detroit auto show. Ford plans to drop the Fiesta subcompact, the Fuson midsize sedan and the Taurus large sedan in North America as U.S. consumers shift to crossovers and other light trucks. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Bailing out of the car market is not the right move. Finding creative ways to make money selling smaller cars at lower volumes is what Ford should be doing. Can Ford team with GM or some other company and share a plant, suppliers and maybe even a common architecture to make a simple, reliable, safe, fuel-efficient small car whose aim is to keep buyers from wandering off to other brands?

Would contract manufacturers such as Magna Steyr or AM General be able to produce cars for Ford?

Instead of bailing on cars, GM has been creative. Recognizing that car buyers are looking for utility, Buick, for example, now has a five-door hatchback, the Regal Sportback, and the TourX wagon. Instead of killing the Fusion, why isn’t Ford offering the European wagon version here?

I also see trouble for the Mustang. Even with its popularity overseas, Mustang volume is still small potatoes. Ford says it sold 125,809 Mustangs in 146 countries last year. While some of Mustang’s powertrain development can be shared with rear-wheel-drive SUVs and F-series trucks, it’s hard to justify major investments in future generations of the Mustang with volume that low.

The hard work is not killing cars. It’s finding new and creative ways to make them appealing.

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