The 2000 Ford Taurus is a sedan with diminished expectations.
Ford Division is abandoning the oval styling, football-shaped instrument cluster and tight import-style ride of the current Taurus.
Moreover, Ford is retreating from attempts to conquer Honda Accord and Toyota Camry buyers, preferring to concentrate on the 3 million drivers who now own a Taurus.
The new conservatism is a startling change in strategy for a nameplate that once symbolized automotive innovation.
NO 2ND HOME RUN
In the 1986 model year, the Taurus burst on the scene, reviving Ford Motor Co.'s fortunes and sparking the aerodynamic design movement.
In the 1996 model year, Ford bet $2.8 billion on a redesign that never lived up to expectations. Ford wanted to unseat the Toyota Camry as the benchmark of mid-sized sedans and capture buyers of imported sedans.
But the car, with an unusual elliptical theme inside and out, plus limited trunk and rear headroom, did not duplicate the first Taurus' success. Ford needed incentives and fleet sales to maintain sales.
The Taurus wore the crown as best-selling car in the United States for five years but lost it in 1997.
Ford marketers say they now are giving Taurus customers what they want. 'We did this based on customer data,' said Mike Zevalkink, vehicle line director for the Taurus, Mercury Sable, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and Lincoln Continental.
'There are 3 million existing Taurus owners. We want to stay tuned in with their needs and desires,' Zevalkink said. 'We asked what was unmet in the car they had and what they wanted. We are going to stick with our strengths of today and the 3 million customers that we have.'
A primary lesson Ford learned: Taurus buyers do not want flashy styling that makes them stand out from the crowd.
'They were interested in safety, a quieter car, a softer ride and more conveniences,' said Don Baker, Taurus/Sable program manager.
Awareness of safety is increasing industrywide and is a primary purchase consideration for family sedans such as the Taurus, Zeval-kink said.
So the 2000 model carries several safety innovations:
1. Ford says the Taurus will be the first vehicle sold with an 'advanced restraint system.' The system integrates safety belt pretensioners, safety belt use sensors, a driver's seat position sensor, airbags with two inflation levels and a sensor that measures crash severity.
The system determines the severity of the crash, safety belt use and the driver's seating position before deploying the airbags for a low- or high-energy frontal crash. For example, to minimize airbag injuries, the system will deploy with less energy if a small-stature woman is seated close to the steering wheel, decreasing the chest load by 45 percent.
Ford estimates the new system will cut in half the number of airbag deployments needed when occupants are wearing safety belts in accidents.
2. Head-and-chest side airbags are optional. Ford expects an installation rate of up to 40 percent.
3. Adjustable accelerator and brake pedals allow shorter drivers to sit farther from the steering column. The optional feature, already available on the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition, is a first in a Ford car. Ford expects a 30 percent installation rate.
4. An emergency trunk release is standard. In June, Ford will begin installing the feature on Ford and Mercury cars.
The 2000 Taurus arrives in dealerships in October. The sedan will be sold in LX and SE versions. Compared with the current model, the 2000 Taurus is 1 inch taller and 0.1 inch longer.
A station wagon remains in the lineup, representing about 10 percent of volume. The wagon is restyled only from the B pillar forward.
The 2000 Taurus sedan gains 1.9 inches of rear headroom and trunk space increases by 1.2 cubic feet.