Ford vehicles need riskier styling and better quality

Coming up
Highlights of Ford Motor Co.’s major U.S. product programs by model year Ford
2003: Expedition, extensive styling and engineering changes; F-150, new sheet metal (or 2004)
2004: Windstar, extensive styling and engineering changes; Mustang redesign
2005: Mid-sized sport wagon debuts; Focus redesign; Ranger redesign (or 2006); Crown Victoria redesign
Mercury
2003: Windstar-based minivan replaces Villager
2005: Grand Marquis redesign (or 2006)
Lincoln
2003: Compact sport-utility debuts
2005: Entry-level luxury sedan debuts; LS redesign (or 2006); performance sedan debuts (or 2006)

Ford Motor Co.’s new leaders, CEO William Clay Ford Jr. and COO Nick Scheele, last week said the company has lost its focus when it comes to building attractive, high-quality vehicles. Product Editor Rick Kranz assesses where the company needs to go:

To boost sales, profits and market share, the new Ford team must tackle several issues. For instance, styling is too middle-of-the-road. Lincoln and Mercury need compelling new directions. And the company needs to move faster with fresh products. Specifically, Ford must:

  • Identify and respond to vehicle trends, such as the shift by buyers to such sport wagons as the Toyota Highlander and Acura MDX. The successful Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute are the only sport wagons offered. A Taurus-priced sport wagon is planned, but not until the 2005 model year.

  • Take risks with styling. Other than the retro Ford Thunderbird and the European-influenced Focus, the styl-ing on the North American brands is vanilla.

  • Accelerate the consolidation of

    vehicle platforms to cut costs among Ford’s global brands. The next-generation Ford Focus, Mazda Protege and Volvo S40 and V40 are scheduled

    to share a platform. But the styling and personalities of each of these vehicles must reflect the respective brands.

  • Develop a purpose for the Lincoln brand. The first of a new family

    of rear-drive Lincolns will go on sale in the 2005 model year. But the brand must have exceptional performance and styling if the automaker expects to draw buyers from German makes. So far the concepts that represent the styling direction of Lincoln have failed to stir much excitement.

  • Create a mission and a product portfolio for Mercury, a brand that has been without direction for several years.

  • Improve quality. Launches for the Escape, Explorer, Mountaineer and Thunderbird have been scarred by recalls.
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