Jac Nasser says today's cars are bland.
Trucks, on the other hand, are packed with personality. Cars should be too, says Nasser, president of Ford Automotive Operations.
Nasser has ordered a personality makeover of Ford Motor Co. cars. The results will be seen in two or three years, he said.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Nasser believes the North American car market will rebound. But first, cars need more pizzazz.
'Cars at the moment are probably at their lowest ebb,' he said in an interview with Automotive News last week. 'They have to come back. But they won't come back magically. They have to deserve their comeback.'
In the May 25 issue, Automotive News will publish edited transcripts of interviews with the presidents of the Big 3: Nasser; Rick Wagoner, president of General Motors' North American Operations; and Tom Stallkamp, president of Chrysler Corp.
VOLKSWAGEN'S HOT BEETLE
The comeback for cars will happen when they are infused with the 'tremendous creativity and ingenuity' that created today's popular light trucks, Nasser said.
With the New Beetle, Volks-wagen AG showed that cars can still generate passion. J. Mays, hired by Nasser last year to head Ford's global design department, helped design the New Beetle.
'Just imagine where the truck market would be if you still had the truck products of 10 years ago,' Nasser said. 'No three-doors, no four-doors, no easy-to-use four-wheel-drive vehicles, no extended cabs, no flare sides.
'That is the type of personality we need to install in the car segments,' he said. 'We are going to change our resource allocation very quickly.'
Nasser said, 'When you look at all of the competitors in the business today, we've got too much of our assets tied up in products that are too generic. That applies to Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda. It applies to everybody.'
Ford held 19.4 percent of the U.S. car market in 1997, a drop of 1 percentage point from 1996. Industrywide, car sales fell 2.8 percent, and light trucks gained 3.9 percent in 1997.
Moreover, in 1997, light trucks increased their share of the total market to 45.3 percent from 43.7 percent in 1996.
Nasser declined to specify how he would improve car designs.
The hard work of reviving Ford's car lineup is likely to begin with Ford Division's flagship, the Taurus sedan. In 1997, the Taurus lost its title as America's best-selling car after wearing the sales crown for five years.
SENSE OF URGENCY
The company is already creating a sense of urgency at Lincoln Mercury by moving the staff of the two brands to California.
Lincoln's mission is to attract younger, import-oriented customers while retaining existing owners. For example, Lincoln wants its two 2000 LS sedans, which go on sale early next year, to lure BMW and Mercedes owners to Lincoln showrooms.
Nasser would not comment on the future of the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. Too big to be small cars and too small to be big cars, the sedans have never found a strong home in the North American market.
By 2000, Ford is expected to build a sport wagon - a sport-utility look-alike on a car platform - in the Kansas City, Mo., assembly plant where the Contour and Mystique are built. The Contour and Mystique could be sourced in Mexico if the plant is converted.
Nasser already has pared Ford's car lineup. Under his command, the Ford Aspire, Ford Thunderbird, Ford Probe and previous-generation Mercury Cougar were sent to the chopping block in early 1997.