Is a premium sedan trimmed with wood and aluminum and priced near $30,000 too far to reach for the Ford brand?
Ford Division says it can pull it off with the Five Hundred. The front-drive sedan arrives in 2004 and will feature upscale engineering and styling touches never seen in a premium Ford sedan.
Analysts say it's a risky strategy. Ford is perceived as a budget brand, and competition from cars such as the Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat and other sedans in the $25,000 to $30,000 price range is stiff. Also, Ford still is trying to overcome a reputation for lackluster quality.
Yet, Ford's toughest job may be convincing its dealers that the Five Hundred will be worth the price.
"We've seen that fairly often, especially with Ford cars, where the salespeople aren't convinced that a product is worth what Ford is saying the price is," said Art Spinella, an auto analyst with CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore. The 1996 Ford Taurus was an example of that, he said.
But J Mays, Ford's vice president of design, is certain that the Five Hundred will shake up the sedan segment: "The Five Hundred looks like it costs $10,000 more than it does. It's conservative (in) style, upscale, with a nice amount of wood and aluminum finishes on the interior."
The car's styling will be influenced heavily by German vehicles, especially Audi, where Mays once worked. Mays suggested that the Five Hundred's price would be about the same as that of the Toyota Avalon, which starts at $26,330, including destination.