Commentary: End of Excursion model would bode well for Ford
Aug. 3, 2002 August Cole writing for CBS.MarketWatch.com had this to say about the Ford decision to excecute the Excursion
NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- Trying to figure out what might kill Ford Motor's mammoth Excursion SUV is a bit like postulating about what cataclysm took out the dinosaurs.
Ford , understandably, won't show its cards even as anonymously-sourced reports circulate that 2004 will be the last run for what is one of the biggest SUVs on the road.
A Ford spokesman toed the line and said the company doesn't comment on future model plans. He added the Excursion is going to be built through 2003.
So even if we can't figure out when such a move would be made, asking why it would happen is a valuable exercise as Ford heads toward its centennial. It is ironic that the company that all but launched the mainstream SUV movement with the Explorer is faced with a decision to kill the very vehicle that critics say has taken the genre to an untenable extreme.
Spilling the beans
Being coy about the Expedition's fate robs Ford of the chance to make a clear statement to Wall Street and drivers alike about just how serious Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. takes his pledge to make better vehicles for his customers. He could use the discussion as a way to bolster his status in the industry as someone willing to walk that fine line between business and environmental altruism. Now it looks like only the public relations execs will shape how that discussion unfolds.
But before that happens, you should know what's behind this sort of a decision. It's the bottom line.
"It's a real bean-counter decision being made," said Art Spinella, of CNW Marketing.
Remember, General Motors (GM: news, chart, profile) recently pulled the plug on an entire brand: Oldsmobile. Though many enthusiasts cringed at the deliberate slow-motion death, Wall Street was pleased.
With Ford shares languishing under $13 even after a rare profitable quarter, the pressure is on.
Marketed to the commercial and industrial buyer, the Excursion has had to square off against one of the strongest nameplates in the truck segment, the Chevrolet Suburban, which has about a third of that market.
The Excursion, launched in late 1999, never garnered more than 10 percent, according to Spinella. In a bid for more mainstream buyers, there's an Eddie Bauer version on the way marketed to suburbanites that will never share the company of the drywallers to whom the original version appeals.
So far this year, Ford has sold just over 17,200 Excursions -- down 17 percent from last year. The Suburban has notched sales of about 81,300 units -- a 3.4 percent decline from last year.
The cost has been a problem for Ford, Spinella said. "They can't get the price point down to the Suburban's price point for the commercial customer," he said.
Still, the Excursion, which in full disclosure I have never driven but have nearly been run down by, is an indecent expression of automotive design and corporate hubris. It can tow 11,000 pounds and carry nine passengers. It's even bigger than the Suburban, which many families swear by for shipping kids to the slopes.
No fuel economy data is provided on the Ford Web site because it appears the EPA doesn't do the math for rigs this big, in this case tipping the scales at more than 7,000 pounds. During a two-week trial, the scribes at Edmunds.com reported the Excursion got about 12 miles per gallon.
If you can't shake that fin de siecle Titanic chill the Excursion gives you, just remember that Ford will happily keep the beast alive if it can make money on it. If they can't, it'll disappear and become a footnote used to show how far astray vehicle design can get and how outlandish drivers can become.
There won't be any other reasons, no matter how good they may be, to put the Excursion away.
And that's business, right?
August Cole is spot news editor at CBS.MarketWatch.com in Chicago
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....