DETROIT -- In case there was any doubt about the future of the underperforming Ford Flex, this spy photo should end speculation that the automaker is preparing to pull the plug.
Despite poor sales, Ford is preparing a mild facelift for what is believed in the photo to be the 2013 Flex. The exterior styling changes on the Flex in the photo are limited to a new grille, headlights and front fascia. A new tailgate and fascia highlight changes at the rear.
A Ford spokesman declined to discuss future product plans.
Flex was introduced in the summer of 2008 as an alternative to a crossover. It was positioned as a visual indicator of the changes going on at Ford. Flex was introduced at a time when the automaker desperately needed a home run, I wrote in 2008.
The Flex's boxy, wagonish exterior design signaled Ford was willing to break away from the me-too crossover styling model and take a risk. The word "polarizing" appeared as a styling description in a Ford news release.
Well, instead of polarizing, it was a turn off.
Flex's best year was 2009, when 38,717 vehicles were sold, according to the Automotive New Data Center. Sales declined 12 percent in 2010, to 34,227. Sales for the first quarter of this year totaled 6,823, a 22 percent drop from the same period in 2010.
Ford probably would have had better luck if the Flex had been a slightly shorter vehicle equipped with sliding side doors – in other words, a minivan.
With such dismal sales, there had been speculation that Ford might cut its presumed loses and discontinue the Flex.
Instead, the mild facelift likely will take the Flex to the 2015 model year.