Ugh. Flex This Ford.

Posted by: David Kiley on March 23, 2007

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I have been a fan of the Ford Fairlane concept vehicle since its introduction a few years ago. This week, I got a glimpse of photos of the production version that will debut at next month’s New York Auto Show. It has stayed remarkably true to the original concept…except for one thing.

Ford will call the uniquely styled crossover…the Flex. The Flex. That’s right. I said The Flex.

The Flex? Flex This.

Ford just doesn’t do names very well. We all know by now the saga of the Ford Five Hundred being renamed the Taurus a few months after Ford mothballed the old Taurus. We all know the saga of the Lincoln Zephyr being renamed the MKZ after a year. We all know about the genius of trying to name all the Fords with names that start with “F,” and all the SUVs with names that start with “E,” and the idea of naming all the Mercurys with names that started with “M.” Did somebody go to business school to learn stuff that smart?

Fairlane was the perfect name. Yes, a few short-sighted people said you shouldn’t give a crossover the name of a classic Ford sedan. Bah!

Good names are hard to come by. The Fairlane concept I have come to anticipate looks like a big MINI Cooper. That’s not a bad thing. Yet, it is also reminiscent of the old woody wagons. That’s not a bad thing either. There is an air of excitement and a little whimsy around this vehicle. The Fairlane name was perfect.

I have heard that some inside Ford felt that Fairlane gave the vehicle a retro feel with which Fordies weren’t comfortable. Remember the Thunderbird? But the design department always favored Fairlane as the name, which is why they used the name for the concept. Got that…the creative people in the company always favored Fairlane. Naming is a creative endeavor.

The Fairlane, er…I meean the Flex…I think, will draw a lot of new buyers to Ford. It is a striking design in a growing category of car-based SUVs. As much as I like the new GM full-size crossovers—Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave—they don’t pack much of a design statement. That’s where the Fairlane…er…I mean…the Flex…has the edge on the GM vehicles. Fairlane…er…Flex…has that “I gotta have one of those” feelings about it, not unlike the MINI.

Doesn’t Fairlane elicit notions of a journey…going somewhere in style…making a statement…going someplace cool. “Flex” just seems at odds with the slightly romantic, slightly retro feelings that seem connected to this vehicle.

I welcome your thoughts. Maybe if we have enough comments, we can change their minds.

Reader Comments

JB

March 23, 2007 9:14 PM

David, take a look at Ford in Australia, (http://www.ford.com.au/) they use many of the old Ford names i.e. Falcon, Fairlane, etc. Ford should consider importing some of those designs and feature sets in vehicles - see Mondeo. We seem to take a back seat in the U.S. to features and quality of company's like Ford who also sell vehicles overseas. Just my thoughts. JB

Brendan Moore

March 23, 2007 9:22 PM

There are a lot of things I disagree with you on; the list is fairly long, but it looks as if we are simpatico on Ford's model-naming skills. Well, that and the relative value Bill O'Reilly brings to the world through his "journalism".

Back to Ford - Flex would be a great name for a small, cool-looking plug-in hybrid whose engine could run on three different kinds of fuel when the main battery power was down. Not really a fit for Fairlane concept vehicle, from my point of view.

Even if it's not Fairlane, there must be at least a dozen names they've already considered that would be better than Flex. They need to drag out that PowerPoint deck again, and revisit some of the names the marketing people came up with the last time they had this discussion.

B Moore - Autosavant.net

Stuart

March 23, 2007 9:54 PM

To me Flex has a quirky, funky, fun feel about it. Fairlane reminds me of the cars that were around when I was a kid.

They were big and, to my way of thinking, lumbering petrol guzzlers.

I think a name like Flex has more marketing potential than something from yesteryear.

jake

March 24, 2007 9:24 PM

for what it's worth, I agree completely. I also think Ford should market a retro-futuristic Bronco as well...

marc

March 28, 2007 11:07 PM

I like the flex name, but I dont think it fits for this vehicle.

Salvatore Pagano

March 31, 2007 4:48 PM

Fairlane suggests fair conditions driving in your lane because your vehicle is FAIR or favorable for the lane/vehicle you have chosen. It hints of courteous drivers who are fair and considerate, which is often not the case, but we all love our fantasies!

solomon_rex

April 2, 2007 2:29 PM

I think flex works because the best attributes of these type of vehicles are the seating arrangements and versatility. Also, car-like handling with SUV-like size. These are the selling points, so the name works. It's a little problematic only because a lot of people are discussing "flex-fuel" vehicles, and you don't want cognitive crowding of that type for casual buyers. But it's probably ok.

I think Ford is right to avoid retro names because of the baggage a lot of people seem to have with American manufacturers. Like, I bought a Ford Fairlane 30 years ago and the engine blew up 20 years ago, doesn't happen in a Honda, blah, blah, blah.

I think most importantly, Ford needs to push fuel efficiency with CVTs on these CUVs and that will help cut through the clutter with families that buy these. This has the potential to be as popular as the old explorer.

As long as we're throwing out ideas, they should restyle and rename the current Explorer as Bronco (or Bronco4 or some such nonsense to cover traditionalists), since it's such an SUV throwback (and is destined to be a low-volume seller in the current climate, pun intended), and use the valuable Explorer name on the Flex. Recent history shows that they'll probably do this in a year, anyway.

What do we know about names anyway? Toyota sells LOTS of highlanders that hardly bring to mind burly Scottish warriors. So it probably doesn't matter.

ps I hope they keep the suicide doors.

solomonrex

April 3, 2007 11:16 AM

I think Flex fits well. People shopping for minivan alternatives want flexible seating arrangements and the feel of a car in the size of an SUV.

The only downside is possible consumer confusion with all this talk of Flex Fuels. But I think it's a good modern name. And Ford is obviously skittish about retro ties for some reason.

Maybe Mulally will rename this the Fairlane next year...

Lyn

April 18, 2007 11:35 PM

Flex,CUV,CVT,SUV,ECT. What ever you call it it's still a station wagon/mini-van. Why not call it what it is UGLY!

Roger

September 21, 2007 6:30 PM

What does the name flex mean???? Can you use E-85 in this vehicle. Nowhere on the Ford Flex site does it tell us whether this is a true flex-fuel vehicle. Ford is way behind other auto makers when it comes to flex fuel vehicles. The Taurus was capable of using E-85 fuel for several years and now Ford has quit making the Taurus that will run on this fuel. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!!!! I have been a Ford customer for years, but now am seriously considering a Chevrolet product so I can use the E-85 fuel. It is at least fifty cents less per gallon than the regular unleaded gas and friends who are using it tell me their mileage is not more than 1 to 3 MPG less, if any.

As for the looks of this Flex, it's not at all the style of crossover I'd consider buying.

J. Shaw

March 11, 2008 11:58 PM

Flex schmex...like almost all American makers they're afraid to move forward like real car co's. and can't stand still so they go backwards, or 'retro'. They can't even put a decent bucket seat in this thing! How in hell are they going to sell another also-ran??

It looks like someone left an Element and a Scion XB in a dark garage together too long...

Fred Stern

March 21, 2008 12:32 PM

A name can be important, but what is more important is the vehicles. Tell me about the car. People don't buy a name.

younGuy

April 22, 2008 6:27 PM

You're old. Flex is meant for a younger clientele, not old men writing for BusinessWeek.

BC

April 24, 2008 5:01 PM

Call it an SUV, call it a CUV, call it a crossover. Call it whatever you want. Doesn't change the fact that it's STILL A STATION WAGON!

That's right, those things you would NEVER buy because your parents drove them. Those things that pushed an entire generation into "mini-vans" because, hey, it's not a lame station wagon.


Guess what? No matter what you call it, IT'S STILL LAME!

All it needs now is 4 kids in the back standard. Dog optional. Yay! Cross-country motel road trip, here we come!

jeremy wilson

May 22, 2008 4:43 PM

The Flex wont sell at all with 17 mpg and gas going through the roof and will be 6 bucks by labor day, hasn't ford heard of HYBRIDS yet. Sure dosen't seem so!

Fred Townsend

August 4, 2008 9:47 AM

Try driving one. I had a go last week. This is one of the best vehicles I have driven in a long time. Smooth, quiet responsive, comfy seats. I guess i dont care whats its called but im seriously considering this as the family vehicle - it beats all the other alternatives for a seven seater. By the way the looks are growing on me and it attracted more attention in the few minutes i stopped at the mall than anything.

From Kiley: I did. And I reviewed it this week. It is terrific. I agree.

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