Other examples of products delayed or killed:
- The Ford Mustang is expected to get a minor redesign in 2009, one year later than planned.
- A planned Mercury version of the Ford Freestyle crossover is dead.
- The Special Vehicle Team performance unit will go to a two-vehicle lineup, down from plans for as many as five vehicles.
These changes are part of Ford Motor's Way Forward turnaround plan. Fields, Ford Motor's president of the Americas, wants to produce vehicles that faithfully reflect each brand's values.
He has coined the phrase "red, white and bold" as an internal rallying cry and litmus test for the Ford brand.
"Ever since we developed the Way Forward, we actually strengthened our future product plan," Fields said in a recent interview. "It's been real instructive for us to understand who we are, understand what it takes to be competitive and then make sure we're reflecting that in our future product plan."
Distinctive design - including muscular front ends and flashy grilles - seems to be a priority as Ford reworks its cars.
With small cars, Fields has said, Ford was mistakenly trying to "out-Korean the Koreans." He was referring to a plan pursued before his return to North America that likely would have resulted in a cheaper, less distinctive small car.
Instead, Fields wants to introduce a small car that is boldly styled and better equipped than the Aspire, Ford's most recent entry in that segment. The Aspire was dropped in 1998.
But the new plan will leave Ford without a B-segment vehicle for three or four more years.
The automaker had been developing a small car and crossover, code-named B409 and B410, for production in Mexico beginning in 2007. Now product analysts don't expect to see a small car or crossover until 2009.
Most likely, those vehicles will be based on the next-generation B-segment architecture Ford is developing with Mazda. Analysts expect Ford's recent Bronco and Reflex concepts to influence the styling of its future small cars.
Fields acknowledges that the future subcompacts are still three to four years away. But he says it's better to develop the right vehicle even if rivals get to the market sooner.
Fields won't talk specifics about most of Ford's product plans. But here's what else is notable, say company sources, suppliers and industry product analysts:
- Ford is pursuing a modern rear-wheel-drive sedan for the United States near the end of the decade. Details are murky. Ford could rework the Mustang platform or borrow a rear-wheel-drive platform from Australia.
- Ford has gone back and forth on whether to produce a Lincoln coupe based on the Mustang platform. Company executives have said Lincoln needs high-volume cars before it can experiment with a coupe.
- One of the two large front-wheel-drive sedans planned for Lincoln now appears unlikely. The vehicle, based on the Five Hundred platform, was code-named E386. It's in limbo, suppliers and analysts say, and probably will fade out of the plan.
The other Five Hundred-based Lincoln, code-named D385, is on track to go on sale in 2008. It is the production version of the Lincoln MKS concept shown at this year's Detroit auto show.
Ford Motor wants to ease its heavy reliance on trucks. Last year, pickups, SUVs and minivans accounted for 67 percent of Ford Motor's U.S. sales.
Ford doesn't plan to abandon the truck segment. To the contrary, the Way Forward mandates a vigorous defense of Ford's truck market share (see story above).
But rising gasoline prices and declining SUV sales have given Ford's planners a sense of urgency. When the Ford Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle crossover debuted in 2004, Ford touted it as the "Year of the Car."
Consumers yawned. Peter Horbury, Ford's North American design chief, recently acknowledged that the Five Hundred's European styling "was not a success."
The 2006 Fusion was a better effort. Its three-bar grille is the new face of the Ford brand, and the car has sold well so far. Company executives also have high hopes for the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers.
Industry analysts applaud Ford's desire to go back to the drawing board to make its products more relevant. But the subsequent delays mean the automaker risks losing even more market share.
"Because they're rethinking everything, that's really going to leave a big gap in their product introductions," said Erich Merkle, a product analyst with IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. "That's going to create a lot of pain for Ford over the next few years."
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]