CHICAGO -- A Ford Motor Co. executive paid a rare tribute to one of his company's fiercest competitors Wednesday, saying the hot-selling Camry from Toyota Motor Corp. was a better car than Ford's Taurus.
"Very frankly, Camry is a better product than Taurus today," said Jim O'Connor, who heads Ford's sales and marketing division for North America, speaking to reporters at the Chicago Auto Show.
"It's all about product in this business," O'Connor said, when asked why the mid-sized Camry outsold Taurus in the U.S market last month.
O'Connor said Ford still sees near-term demand for the Taurus, especially from its fleet customers and to supply rental cars for its Hertz subsidiary.
But Ford is cutting production of the Taurus and its sister Mercury Sable sharply next year, building the vehicles in one plant instead of two. The glory days Taurus enjoyed as a top money-maker after Ford introduced it in 1986 are clearly over.
A new sedan, the Ford Five Hundred, will be launched next year, and Ford hopes it will help it recoup some of the car segment's losses.
But Toyota is poised to strip the Ford brand of its crown as the No. 1 seller of cars in the United States this year, and U.S. automakers are growing more anxious about the relentless assault by Asian automakers in Detroit's backyard.
Last year in cars, Ford brand sold a total of 864,903 units in the United States. Toyota brand sold 836,110. That was enough for Toyota cars to surpass U.S. sales of cars with the venerable Chevrolet nameplate from General Motors.
Jim Padilla, Ford's executive vice president for North America, who also was attending the auto show here, said he had no apologies to make about the Taurus, saying the vehicle, like some fallen hero, "served the company well."
But he added that Ford itself had helped give the car a bad image, as a vehicle many consumers now see as little more than a drab rental car.
"Frankly, we didn't do ourselves any favor by pushing Taurus into rental fleets the way we did to get the volumes," Padilla said. "That kind of commoditized the product. The product is better than its image, that's my view of it," he said.