Reviving the Taurus is bull

Posted by: David Welch on February 8, 2007

I don’t know what I find more silly. The fact that Ford has brought back the Taurus name or the fact that my colleague David Kiley—who does consider him a tastemaster of all things marketing—thinks it’s a great idea and that he deserves a whiff of credit for the decision.

In any case, it’s one of the dumber ideas I’ve seen in a while. Ford is taking a name that they killed with a decade of bad design and terrible sales and marketing strategies and putting it on a car that has gone unloved since its launch. Sounds like Ford will flush millions in marketing and ad dollars down the tube with this one.

True, the Taurus was once the best-selling car in America in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Then Honda beat it with the Accord and Toyota eclipsed both with the Camry. The 1996 Taurus—the football-shaped disaster that came about when former company Chairman Alex Trotman challenged his designers to scare him—lost what remained of the franchise. Fired CEO Jacques A. Nasser didn’t come up with a quick and thorough facelift and the car sank into oblivion. Ford dumped the cars into rental fleets. For the past year, until the Atlanta factory was closed in November, it was exclusively a rental car. The name is synonymous with cheap cabins, ugly design and the loss of one of the best American car franchises in decades.

I’ll offer one caveat. It does have tremendous recognition. If Ford came back with a really great car, the kind of game changer it came up with in 1985, then the company could resurrect the name. But this modest upgrade of the 500 isn’t it.

My pal Kiley wants to know where to send the invoice for his sagacious marketing advice. If I were Ford, I’d sue him for malpractice.

Reader Comments

Brendan Moore

February 8, 2007 5:23 PM

Mr. Welch, if you were just a little more cynical and jaded, I think you would see the wisdom of resurrecting the Taurus nameplate.

Perhaps that will come with age as those shiny edges get smoothed down under the weight of realization that every auto maker needs to get rid of what they have now (and will have for the next couple of years) before they can move on to the next car that will save the company.

I said it in my response to David Kiley's post, and I'll reiterate here: I thnk it was the right thing to do both short-term and long-term for Ford. If I were sitting in the executive suite at Ford in Dearborn, I would have done the same thing. The Taurus nameplate should not have been tortured by corporate starvation like it was, and the Taurus name should have gone on the Five Hundred from the start, and it should have had 50 more HP when it showed up, but, you know - woulda, shoulda, coulda. This is about mitigating (as much as possible) the negative effects of all those missteps going forward. Those Five Hundreds (nee Taurus) still need to go away in the next couple of years. This will help until Ford can get a new Taurus on the blacktop.

It's all about moving the iron right now for Ford, and moving enough of it to give them some breathing room to roll out new products.

Brendan Moore - Autosavant.net

Adam

February 8, 2007 9:13 PM

All right. I enjoy a challenge.

If I understand Ford correctly, they claimed that, after two years, only four out of ten people recognized the Five Hundred nameplate--and that about twice as many recognized Taurus.

In any other circumstance, the ad agency and/or marketing team responsible for failing to connect with buyers would be FIRED--especially since plenty of other automakers have been able to launch new brands successfully without having to backpedal. And yet, Ford has apparently kept the same inept team while falling back on the easy solution. A solution, by the way, which presupposes that American car buyers are stupid, and will suddenly view a Five Hundred with new front end sheetmetal and a bigger motor as an infinitely better proposition just because of the name.

Did Ford screw up by not naming the Five Hundred 'Taurus' two years ago? Probably. But it's water under the bridge, and the knee-jerk renaming--on top of the Zephyr/Mark Z/MKZ mess--points to continuing issues in Dearborn and an underestimation of the buying public. If they're smart, they'll think to rename the MKS 'Continental' BEFORE the car is launched next year. Meanwhile, they can work (as suggested above) on a real, innovative, next-generation Taurus while the Five Hundred lives out its natural life.

This, by the way, doesn't even touch on the weirdness of 'Taurus X' or the cancellation of the historically relevant Montego nameplate for something which may or may not have higher recognition; we'll never know, of course, as Ford hasn't shared that data. But that's probably a discussion for another post.

L.Kreger

February 9, 2007 8:25 AM

The success of Ford will depend on a lot more than a name change. The Taurus name change makes little sense to me. I believe if the 500 design is improved and the HP is increased the potential sales will be better. It appears the 2008 model addresses, in part, these points.

I have owned 15 Ford Products and it makes little difference to me what the name is. Note the trend toward letter/number vehicles model identification.

Because of the design/engineering changes in the 2008 Taurus it will difficult to evaluate the effect of the name change.

Chirag

February 9, 2007 10:13 AM

I do not realize why American automakers cannot accept the failure and move on. Why try to resurrect a brand that had taken a horrible beating in last decade.

There's only a short term benifits of not having to spend too much marketing money on establishing a new product. However, I believe recapturing lost customer base would take much more conviencing than bringing a familiar name.

Also the people who remember Taurus from 70's and 80's are not their target market anymore, atleast I hope they are not. I'm sure Ford has done their leg work.

B.

February 9, 2007 11:17 AM

Taurus X? That name ranks up there with 'Edsel'.

The failure of Ford's marketing group to recognize the power of the Taurus nameplate is rooted much deeper than just a name. It really shows how Ford lost its focus due to poor leadership.

Mr. Mulally is asking the painfully obvious questions only an 'outsider' can do in order to correct years of poor leadership. That's what leaders do. They ask hard questions and make the tough decisions when others won't. It's not easy.

Ask yourself if you would step up to the plate to fix a company with so many issues on so many levels. I'm betting most of us would say "no". Give Bill Ford credit to recognize he couldn't do it with the team he had and he needed a pro like Mr. Mulally to do the right thing for Ford's future.

Dave Knebel

February 9, 2007 11:53 AM

The new Taurus is sure to be a big hit.

Reviving the name at this time with the design and powertrain upgrades is the next best thing to having done it with the launch of the (Galaxy) 500.

The 500 has been the most under rated vehicle on the road since its introduction in 2005. The 203 hp rating got snickers from the industry experts vs. its 250 hp domestic competition even though it was faster in 0-60 and 35-65 mph. Why?

Have the critics even bothered to drive the car or just jump on the import loving, US economy killing bandwagon. Nothing out there can compare.

Safety, comfort, space and styling all abound in the previous 500's and even now the new "Ten Best Engine List" winning 3.5L V6 will probably not silence the critics. But hey, say an American vehicle is junk and you will sell copies. Right David? (You probably drive an import dopn't you?)

The imports have put some plants here but the domestic lines average 85% domestic content and the imports just 15%. Who really supplies more jobs.

President Bush met with the CEO's of Honda and Toyota and never with the CEO of Ford (or GM) Why?

Aren't the millions of jobs they have provided and continue to provide just as, if not more important, as the new final assembly plants of the imports?

Why do you see every domestic recall splashed and trashed across every headline and TV report in the country while the most recalled brand (Toyota) remains iconic to the press.

Americans continue to buy Imports and trash domestics and then wonder why the economy is suffering. DUH?

Do yourself a favor and drive a Ford before you just follow the Lemmings into the import lots!!

If you are in Cincinnati you can come see me at Walt Sweeney Ford - just ask for Dave and I'll get you into the best car out there - a FORD !

Marco Lagos

February 9, 2007 2:32 PM

In California, nobody buys a Ford car. Perhaps in Cincinnati. Not here. Why? in the long run, Fords are equivalent to problems. A Ford sedan might look ok when you buy it, might have acceptable initial quality the first year. Give it two years, and the nightmare begins. American consumers are not stupid. They buy whatever meets their needs: American pick-ups, foreign sedans. If American car companies do not provide what the consumer wants, regardless of marketing factors (car names, advertising, promotional efforts, etc)they will continue to decline in market share. If they on the other hand, start making good cars for a significant period of time (10 yrs +), then, only then, will Motown regain market share from foreign companies.

Jerry Stiegler-

February 9, 2007 4:28 PM

Regarding Ford products only lasting for a year or two, I can only relate my experiece. From 1987 until I retired in 2005, I drove nothing but Ford products. One Taurus and ten Mercury Grand Marquis. Okay, they may not have been great cars or even very good ones for that matter. But, I was driving a thousand or miles a week with most of the milage racked up the interstate, The cars were safe and comfortable. I could leave home with a weeks worth of sales materials plus personal junk and still meet a coworker and put their stuff in the trunk. On occassion I had three or more people in the car for a business lunch.
As for quality, I think I can remember a half a dozen serious ones but then, my wifes Honda encountered an occassional problem, too. The minimum millage I accumulated was 90,000 and about half of them had a hundred thousand miles plus on odometer when I turned them in.
My plan is to get a Ford or Mercury when the 2008's appear this summer. Whether or not resurecting the Taurus and Sable names is a good idea or not, time will tell.
I could care less what the model name is. The vast majority of people who have reviewed the car, including Consumer Report, feel the car offers a host of advantages and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is.

CRAIG RODMAN

February 10, 2007 6:39 AM

It's funny how Ford put's a great name ( Taurus) on a terrible product and GM put's a terrible name (Malibu) on a great product.I'll go with GM on this one.You can always get by with a bad name on a great product in todays market.There must be in house spy's working at Ford making these foolish moves.The name game at Ford just show's us how arrogant Ford is.They think the public will fall for this smoke show.

John Smith

February 10, 2007 1:14 PM

This is really a matter of what is the car like, is it any good, who does it appeal to. I am not sure who the 500 was for. Ford management has been absolutey horrible. I hope Mr Mullaly kicks some ass. You could manage Ford for a lot less money based on the performance of past management. Now the renamimg of 500 to Taurus. Well it is a symbolic move to everyone (employees and customers) that Ford "F'ed" up and this should have been the new Taurus (only it should have been better and they never should have made the rounded moon unit version). The new Taurus with the 3.5 liter engine and th 6 speed trans should be a decent car. They do need to change the C pillar side window as soon as possible. It is just not up to date styling. Good luck Ford and screw Toyota.

ShelbyGT

February 10, 2007 5:21 PM

Reviving the name Taurus makes sense. In an ideal world, Ford would whip out a new world class car to go with that name change, but that will take years and Ford does not have that time to work with.

The Taurus name, while tarnished during the period where Ford was of the opinion that the car business was uninteresting, still has some value left in it. The Five Hundred is not a terrible car, it is actually a rather nice car, dressed up in a stiff dowdy suit. Ford is fixing that, not as dramatically as I would have hoped, but the result is reasonable. I think that the Taurus/TaurusX will help resurrect the Taurus brand - to some extent.

I just hope that that Ford learns from the horrible experiences of the past few years and gets rid of the insular culture within Dearborn that led the company to believe that Americans wanted drab, cost-reduced, boringmobiles. If Dearborn can't learn that lesson (remember Mustang II, Pinto, Fairmont, Granada, LTD, US Escort, EXP, and on and on) then shut down the US operations and import all the euro models instead. Just don't waste money restyling the front and rear to be "Americanly Boring" or name them something unpronouncable as Merkur.

M.R.

February 11, 2007 9:04 AM

the new Taurus and Sable '08 are cars that the market does not need. there are better choices!
the Sable front looks looks like Taurus and vice
verse. pity Ford did not redo CV and Merc 4.6/V8
to a smaller RWD and 4WD a la Mercedes. as the price of gas goes up and government regulations
become severe, a more fuel efficient car of this type will be needed. even G.M. will introduce a smaller
RWD Impala soon. Ford,G.M. and Chrysler did not
prepare for the future! they are paying a severe price now. the "future" is here, NOW!
also, more practical NOW solutions to reducing gas consumption and pollution are;
better milage cars, clean diesel,more public transport,and higher gas tax!
if N.A. big 3 are to recover(and I am pessimistic)
they should stop spewing out the bullshit P.R. and get down to making cars that customers want. and I do agree with Buzz Hargrove (CAW), somewhat,
in that government should insist that at least 90%
of imports should be made in N.A. with at least 90% local parts. offshore buyers may not want N.A. cars because they are expensive, inferior, and cost too much to run! they will not change.
if N.A. loses enough manufacturing jobs and its ability to control its technology,etc. its status as an economic power will sharply decline to the point that foreign powers will dictate local policy. and China and India will soon want to take care of its own domestic market as its economies enrich it masses of consumers. they may wish to unload a lot of "western paper". and will we be in trouble , then. end of speech!
p.s. I own a Merc v8 now (fantastic but ancient), but will buy a Camry next time.

chagrin2

February 11, 2007 1:00 PM

Renaming a boring product the Ford 500 to Taurus wont help sales. To begin with Ford designs are just lame and sedate. Ford needs to bring its Euro designers over to the US with excellent products such as Focus and Mondeo which are incidentally Mazda derived. Utilize more of it Japanese's subsidiary know how. This is what GM also needs to continue doing with its Opel division extending technology to Saturns.

chagrin2

February 11, 2007 8:23 PM


Right on David Welch. Call a spade a spade, a lemon a lemon and BS .... BS. Ford needs a total remake.

Sell Car

March 9, 2007 6:37 PM

I get more and more people looking to sell their Taurus. Why did Ford come out with the Five Hundred and Fusion if they were thinking of bring back the Taurus. I did own a 1999 Ford Taurus, the mechanic told me that was the worst year of all of them. It nickel and dimed me for a year and I got rid of it.

Dave Knebel

January 23, 2008 12:31 AM

I wonder if after almost a year more people now agree that the new Taurus and also the 500 are both world class automobiles? I hear more and more people commenting on how nice they are.

Also I wanted to add to my previous posting as I am no longer employed at Walt Sweeney Ford and am out of the car business completly.

Shop more than one dealer and compare price AND payment because the finance department will try to make as much money off of you as they can by marking up the rate and/or extending the term.

Check with your own bank for financing options and BEWARE hidden options that are included like VIP packages and warranties.

You may want these products (probably not a VIP package though) but any reputable company will tell you about the features, benefits and cost before sneaking them into your payment.

Remember payment differences seem much less than the total price but if you add up $10/month over a 72 month loan - you just spend an extra $720 !!

Also if you are sold glass etching make sure there are nimbers etched into the glass. This may sound unbelievable but it is common to charge you for the etching even though it may not have any insurance benefits in your state and some dealerships will not register the number or even bother to put it on the vehicle in the first place,

As always if you have any unresolved issues with your dealer you can contact the attorney general in your state. If you mention this to the dealer you may find they are suddenly very quick to take action to appease you.

BE CAREFUL - SHOP AROUND - AND BUY A TAURUS.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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