DETROIT -- The Ford Taurus -- a once-revolutionary nameplate that Ford Motor Co. already killed once, until Alan Mulally arrived and gave it new life -- again has an uncertain future, at least on this side of the globe.
U.S. sales of the Taurus, like many large cars, are tanking, down 28 percent through July. Ford unveiled a redesigned Taurus in April but said it was designed only to be built and sold in China.
Ford hasn't revealed any updates for the Taurus in North America, suggesting the current generation, introduced in 2009 and updated in 2012, will linger on dealership lots for at least a few more years. If sales keep falling, analysts speculate Ford could eliminate U.S. production of it and either import the small volume it needs here from China or leave the full-size sedan segment to its Lincoln brand, which will roll out the Continental next year.
Chris Lemley, a Ford dealer in Medford, Mass., said he keeps requesting more Tauruses but has received very few each month. He figures Ford would rather maximize output of the highly profitable Explorer at the Chicago plant where both vehicles are built.
"If they want to retain Taurus long term, they need to produce and sell more of them in the short term," Lemley wrote in an email. "Right now, we are below the threshold level of inventory to participate meaningfully in the D [full-size] segment."
Mulally, who studied Ford's development of the Taurus while working for Boeing, had a clear affinity for the sedan. Upon being hired as CEO in 2006, he criticized the logic of Ford casting aside one of its most recognizable names and ordered the Five Hundred -- a full-size car, whereas the former Taurus was a midsize -- be hurriedly overhauled and renamed to become Ford's flagship sedan. When he retired last year, he took a Taurus home with him to Seattle.
But Ford has allowed the Taurus to languish, showing little interest in making the investment necessary to compete with the redesigned Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon. With Mulally gone and the full-size sedan market down 18 percent this year, the Taurus is likely to get even fewer resources.
Ford hasn't given any hints about what it may do.
"Taurus continues to play an important role in our North America vehicle lineup," Ford spokesman Said Deep said.
About 20 percent of Tauruses are converted into police cars. That business is an incentive for Ford to keep the Taurus in the U.S. to some degree, though the Police Interceptor Utility, based on the Explorer, is far more popular, and sales of the sedan version are falling.
Despite Mulally's criticism of the move nine years ago, replacing the midsize Taurus sedan with the Fusion has been a positive for Ford. By the end of its life, the old Taurus was ubiquitous on rental-car lots and absent from most car shoppers' consideration lists. But the Fusion vaulted Ford back into contention with Toyota and Honda, particularly after a 2012 redesign that featured the kind of bold styling most sedans had been missing.
In fact, the current Taurus has suffered partly because of the Fusion's success. Despite being a class bigger, the Taurus has slightly less front and rear legroom, front headroom and passenger volume than the Fusion, leaving few reasons, other than a larger trunk, to pay the Taurus' higher price. The Taurus starts at $27,930, including shipping, about $5,000 more than the Fusion.
In the U.S., Ford sold more Fusions in July than it has sold Tauruses in all of 2015, excluding police cars. It's on pace for full-year U.S. sales of 45,000 Tauruses, including police cars, which would be an all-time low, and 290,000 Fusions.
"You'd have trouble finding consumers out there -- especially the desirable [younger] demographics -- who would look at the car and have any kind of awareness of it and affinity for it," said Karl Brauer, senior director of insights for KBB. "There are so many strikes against almost any car in that category and then a few more against the Taurus."