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Old 04-15-2003, 21:09   #1 (permalink)
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Preview: 2006 Ford Futura Ford’s 427 concept morphs into Taurus replacement.

TheCarConnection
by Paul A. Eisenstein 4/15/2003

Ford is heading back to the Futura.

The Detroit automaker is reviving a name that first appeared on a Lincoln show car nearly a half century ago, this time applying it to a new mid-size sedan that will serve as the much-needed replacement for the aging Taurus four-door.

Those who follow the auto show circuit might get a sense of déjà vu viewing the new Ford Futura, as it is, with only a few subtle tweaks, a production version of the automaker’s 427 concept vehicle. Underneath the muscular sheet metal, the new sedan shares its basic platform with the popular mid-size Mazda6.

A number of other planned Ford products, including a new Lincoln also set for debut at the New York Auto Show this week, also will share the Mazda6/Futura platform.

"Futura will be that rare mid-size sedan that oozes style but doesn't sacrifice roominess, comfort, trunk space - or affordability,” said Ford’s design director, J Mays.

The production vehicle will be a little taller, and decidedly more American in appearance than the Mazda6. It will add about three inches to the Japanese car’s wheelbase, have a wider track and boast completely different sheetmetal. According to Mays, the layout of the family-oriented Ford will deliver more interior space than the sporty Mazda.

Jellybean exodus

The Futura will move away from the soft, “jellybean” styling that was ushered in with the original Taurus in 1986. Its more muscular design was first previewed with this year’s 427 concept – which boasts a look Mays likens to a tightly clenched fist. The Futura will still feature the show car’s three horizontal metal bars, though the look has been softened a bit for the production vehicle.

The three-bar grille harkens back to some of the Ford muscle cars of the 1960s, and is likely to again become a signature for the automaker, according to Mays. “It will find its way into a number of future Ford products,” he says, though he insists the automaker isn’t planning to adopt a cookie-cutter look for all vehicles.

The Futura name is itself a bit retro. It first appeared on a Lincoln concept car in the 1960s, and was recycled repeatedly on a variety of show cars and production vehicles during the decades that followed. In Australia today, Ford sells a version of its Falcon model bearing the Futura designation.

When the new car launches in late 2004 as a 2005 model, it will feature three separate powertrains. There’ll be an economy-minded 2.3-liter in-line four, an engine that debuted in the Mazda6 and which will eventually find its way into a broad range of products, including the next-generation Ranger pickup. For those who want a bit more performance, Ford will also offer a 3.0-liter Duratec V-6.

And the automaker plans to make Futura its second hybrid, offering an optional version of the gasoline-electric powertrain that will shortly go on sale in the Escape SUV. The hybrid-electric Futura will have the capability of running on either its 2.3-liter gasoline engine, its battery-powered electric motor, or both at the same time, when a burst of power is needed.

Ford sources also hint larger displacement gasoline engines are likely to be added to the Futura option list, possibly including a high-performance package that could carry the coveted SVT badge.

Though Futura is similar in its basic size to that of the Taurus – both fall into the so-called C/D segment of the market – it is really only one piece in a broad plan by Ford to satisfy mid-size buyers. The automaker has already announced plans to introduce a slightly larger, or D-sized, sedan, the Ford Five Hundred, as well as a new car/truck crossover, the Freestyle.

Atlanta bound?

That reflects the increasing fragmentation of the U.S. new car market. Individual products that can sell in volumes of much over 200,000 units a year are likely to become increasingly rare, predicts Ford President Nick Scheele. Instead, consumers want vehicles that meet their individual needs. So the challenge, he says, is to produce vehicles that look different, but which share a variety of common components – and which can be rolled down the same assembly line. Both the Freestyle and Five Hundred, for example, will be produced at the Chicago assembly plant currently building Taurus.

Ford isn’t yet saying where the Futura will be produced, though it could very well go into the other Taurus plant in Atlanta, one of the most efficient assembly lines in the company’s production network.

What’s certain is that it will roll down whatever line along with a variety of other new models. Eventually there will be at least 10 separate vehicles based off the Mazda6/Futura architecture – a more flexible variation of the platform concept. These will include four passenger cars, four crossover vehicles and two other innovative designs. Ultimately, they will appear under the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury badges, and are expected to generate combined volumes of around 800,000 units annually.

“This will translate into investment efficiency as good as we can get it,” said Mays.
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Old 04-15-2003, 21:31   #2 (permalink)
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Ford to Phase Out Popular Sedan

The Ford Motor Company is starting to write the obituary of the Taurus, the last American sedan that credibly competed with Japan.

Company executives said yesterday that the Taurus would be phased out in the middle of the decade and that three new vehicles Ford was developing would replace it.

Two of them will go on sale beginning next year: the Five Hundred, a large Audi-like sedan, and the Freestyle, a combination sport utility vehicle and station wagon that shares a similar European styling and will replace the Taurus wagon.

This week, at the press preview of the New York International Automobile Show, Ford executives will release the first pictures of the Futura, a midsize car aimed at the perennial champions of the car market, the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. Futura is to be introduced in 2005 and will offer a hybrid version that supplements its gas engine with electric power.

"Following the launch of Futura, Taurus will retire," said Steve Lyons, president of the Ford division.

Ford has already planned to cut production of Taurus and its sister vehicle, the Mercury Sable. Next year production will be cut from two plants to just one, in Atlanta. Sales of the two cars peaked at 410,000 annually in 1992 and fell to 247,000 last year.

Can this alliterated trio — Futura, Five Hundred, Freestyle — make the passenger car business a profit center for Ford again? In the 1980's, the Taurus put Ford back on the map, but many critics said that Taurus's styling never made it out of that decade.

"Duplicating the old Taurus's success, or the current Accord's, would be like lightning striking twice," said John Casesa, an analyst at Merrill Lynch. "The Accord and the Camry are so established that the domestics are outsiders trying to fight their way back in."

Even a modest victory would go a long way for Ford. What the company needs, analysts say, is to re-establish a beachhead in the meat-and-potatoes passenger car market, especially with Japanese companies pushing into the last stronghold of Detroit, the pickup truck.

At stake is "not just their credibility," Mr. Casesa said, "it's their credit ratings. It's such a big part of the market it matters if they make money there."

Making cars profitable has been a perennial problem not just for Ford but the rest of the Big Three. General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler Group unit of DaimlerChrysler earn their automotive profits almost entirely from sales of S.U.V.'s and pickup trucks. Every year, it seems, one of the companies says it is rededicating itself to the passenger car and coming out with a new vehicles sure to be an Accord-Camry killer. The latest effort will be G.M.'s redesigned Chevrolet Malibu, which will hit showrooms later this year. G.M. has heavily promoted the Malibu, but analysts view it skeptically.

What can Ford learn from the Taurus experience?

After 18 years and nearly eight million Tauruses and Mercury Sables sold, Ford's flagship sedan has evolved from daring to dull in the eyes of most reviewers and customers. More important, Ford stopped making any significant profit on the Taurus years ago and now sells more than half of the cars on the cheap to rental or corporate fleets, or to its own employees.

But "until they restyled it and made it ugly, it was actually a popular car," said Maryann Keller, a longtime auto analyst. She was referring to a much criticized redesign of the car in the 1990's that rendered it an odd homage to the oval, with every light and curve slavishly adhering to form, and made it more expensive. Toyota and Honda have not seemed to make such mistakes with their flagship products.

Taurus, when it was introduced, "was an innovative car," Ms. Keller said. "It was Ford's time."

Douglas Brinkley, a historian who has written a new history of Ford, "Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress" (Viking Press, 2003), said the company effectively started over with the Taurus and took pains to create something with both fresh styling, and approached details as a priority, like color-coding dipsticks to make it easy for ordinary drivers to figure out where the oil went. Its styling was aerodynamic and markedly different from the boxy cars of the moment.

"Without that car, it's unlikely Ford would have been able to survive into the new millennium," he said. "It was an extraordinarily innovative car at the time. They had a blank page to work from and they started completely from scratch. They weren't just building it from leftover Ford parts."

Mr. Brinkley added, "The lesson of the Taurus is that you can't take a piecemeal approach, take parts from other cars, and have a new" vehicle.

Ford appears to be trying something different with the Futura — a name Ford has used before on both production cars and prototypes — which will be similar to a prototype called the 427 introduced in January in Detroit. Both have a somewhat squared look and horizontal aluminum bands creating a striking presence in the front.

J Mays, Ford's design director, said the "vehicle has American written all over it" adding that he did not want it to "look like a generic Japanese econobox."

For the other vehicles, Five Hundred and Freestyle, Mr. Mays, the former top designer at Volkswagen's Audi division, is more willing to concede he has envisioned European knockoffs.

"The appearance of these vehicles seem to be $15,000 more than the cost of the car," Mr. Mays said. "These are going to be incredibly great values."

Of course, getting something inexpensive can either seem like a bargain or getting what you pay for, depending on the quality of the car. The new cars are still a year or two away from hitting the streets, which means Taurus will have several years as a lame duck — far too long to wait, analysts say.

"Today is way too late," Ms. Keller said. "Last June was way too late."

The New York Times
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Old 04-16-2003, 07:56   #3 (permalink)
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April 16, 2003

2003 New York: Ford looks to the Futura for new mid-sized sedan
Automaker sees 800,000 units annually off Mazda6 platform

By DAVID VERSICAL | Automotive News

Ford Motor Co. plans to build a long line of mid-sized vehicles off a single platform. The effort will start with a sedan called the Ford Futura to go on sale in 2005.

The strategy calls for a range of sedans, SUVs and so-called crossover vehicles. It will feed each of Ford's traditional brands -- Ford, Lincoln and Mercury. But it will draw heavily on a global partner by being built off the platform of the new Mazda6.

When the Futura arrives in 2005, it will fill a gap in the middle of Ford's car lineup -- the so-called CD segment. That slot has been empty since 2000, when Ford stopped producing the Ford Contour and the Mercury Mystique.

Plans for the Futura were to be revealed at the New York auto show Wednesday.

Here are highlights, as outlined by Ford COO Nick Scheele:

Ford will build as many as 10 vehicles off the Mazda 6 platform.

The platform will yield front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models.

There will be two Lincolns, including a new type of vehicle for the brand and awd variations.

There will be a Mercury sedan.

Up to 800,000 vehicles a year will be built off the platform.

It will carry a range of powertrains -- from inline four-cylinder engines, to V-6s and high-performance versions. It will not carry a V-8.

One version of the Futura will have a hybrid powertrain.

The Futura will fit into a slot between the Ford Focus and the Ford Five Hundred, a sedan set to go on sale in 2004.

The Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable will continue to be built at the company's Atlanta assembly plant. But the long-term prospects for those cars, now heavily sold to fleets, do not look good. No significant changes are planned for them, said Scheele.

The Futura, developed under the code name CD338, will draw some styling cues from the Ford 427 concept car shown at the Detroit auto show in Janaury, most notably the five horizontal bars at the front of the car.

Its "smart, business-like interior" will have the look and feel of quality, similar to the highly praised interiors of Volkswagen and Audi, said J Mays, Ford's design chief.

The Mazda6 went into production last year at a joint-venture plant in Flat Rock, Mich. The Ford Mustang is also scheduled to be built at that plant.

Scheele said Ford decided to use that platform rather than a European platform because the Mazda6 was already in North America.

The platform strategy also marks significant strategic shifts.

First, it reflects Ford's response to the fragmenting of the U.S. market into ever-smaller niches. The days when a single nameplate can command nearly a million sales a year are long gone. Instead, Ford will try to drive that kind of volume by having a single platform feed a variety of vehicles to its brands.

The move also marks of reversal of earlier attempts to develop cars that can serve the company globally. The Contour and Mystique were developed in Europe in the late 1980s as part of an ambitious $7 billion effort. Though praised for their ride and handling characteristics, they were viewed as too small for U.S. tastes. Scheele said Ford won't make such mistakes again.

"Large economies of scale happen regionally," he said. "They do not happen globally."
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Old 04-16-2003, 08:05   #4 (permalink)
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Ford gambling on midsizes

10 vehicles to be based on Mazda 6 sedan
April 16, 2003

BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS AUTO CRITIC

Ford Motor Co. will bet its future in the U.S. car market -- and the future of thousands of people working at as many as four assembly plants -- on a family of new vehicles based on the Mazda 6, a critically acclaimed Japanese-engineered sedan.

Ford plans to eventually build 800,000 midsize vehicles a year -- or about one-quarter of its North American production -- in the program, which will require hundreds of millions of dollars of investments over several years.

The cars will be "fully competitive" with class-leading and best-selling cars like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, promises Ford President and Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele.

It appeared that Ford had permanently forsaken the midsize car market, which accounts for 20 percent of U.S. vehicle sales; instead, it's about to roll the dice with one of the highest-volume programs in the company's history. The company's last foray into the lower-midsize market was an epic flop, a $7-billion program that ended ignominiously when Ford killed the Contour and Mystique in favor of the Escape, a compact sport-utility vehicle based on Mazda engineering. The European-engineered Contour and Mystique -- dubbed Detour and Mistake by cynics within the company -- proved to have too little interior space for American tastes.

The new program will kick off with a midsize Ford sedan called the Futura that will go on sale in mid-2005 as a 2006 model. It will eventually include 10 cars, SUVs and crossover wagons for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands.

Those other vehicles will probably go into production from 2005 through 2008.

The extensive product line will be the key to Ford's success in the midsize car market and ingrowing market segments for small SUVs like the Ford Escape and crossover wagons like the Subaru Legacy. The family of vehicles will include five- and seven-passenger vehicles, as well as front-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive models.

The Futura, which will be almost exactly the same length as the Accord, will be Ford's first attempt to field a competitive small midsize car in North America since the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique went out of production in 2000. The car will fit into Ford's lineup between the aging Taurus and Mercury Sable and the larger Ford 500 and Mercury Montego sedans, which go on sale in 2004.

At least five of the 10 vehicles from the program will wear the Ford badge, while at least two will be Lincoln vehicles that will get the luxury brand into portions of the market where it doesn't compete today, Scheele said.

The program is a huge leap of faith in the Mazda 6, which has won critical acclaim but sold just 8,988 vehicles in the first three months of 2003. The car went into production at Flat Rock in October 2002 after Mazda began building it in Japan. Mazda sold 2,042 of the racy little sedans in the United States in 2002.

The new vehicles will share their platform -- key mechanical systems like the suspension and brakes -- with the Mazda 6 but will have considerably more interior space, sources familiar with the program said.

The excellent handling and comfortable ride of the Mazda 6 have won wide praise, but the car offers less interior space than its main competitors -- the Accord and Camry, said Jim Hall, vice president for industry analysis at con******t AutoPacific in Southfield.

"The platform needs to be longer and wider," Hall said. "Ford's plan can work; the Mazda 6 platform is good enough. The question is whether it still will be that good when it gets bigger."

The Futura will measure about 190 inches long, insiders say, about a half-inch longer than the current Accord, widely considered the best midsize car on the market.

A big question for Ford is whether the Futura will be competitive with the new Accord and Camry, which should go on sale within months of it.

The Mazda 6 hit the market in 2002, meaning that its platform will be getting long in the tooth just as the Futura debuts -- and just as the Futura faces tough competition from the new Honda and Toyota.

"We know what Honda and Toyota are doing," said a Ford source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The timing lets the Futura benefit from all the development we're doing and the ongoing work at Mazda."

Ford won't say where it will assemble the new cars, SUVS and crossovers. However, with its commitment to build 800,000 vehicles a year, it's safe to assume three or four assembly plants employing thousands of workers -- and as many or more jobs at Ford's suppliers -- are riding on the program.

It's a big, gutsy and risky bet on the company's ability to take a superior Japanese platform and improve it enough to beat Japan's best automakers at their own game of continuous development and building a wide range of cars and trucks based on a single basic set of components.

SHARED PLATFORM
A platform is a single set of building blocks from which a variety of cars can be built. A platform nearly always includes the suspension and large parts of the metal underbody that forms the car's floor.
Almost any individual piece can vary from one vehicle to another, but by using a common platform for two different vehicles, an automaker can reduce its development cost and ensure that it can build several vehicles in a single assembly plant.

Despite their very different appearance, the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Corolla share the same platform at a joint plant in California. The vehicles share most of their parts, including engines and transmissions. The same goes for the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Neon.

By Mark Phelan
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Old 04-16-2003, 11:28   #5 (permalink)
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Ford Futura

2003-04-16
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Ford Motor Company issued the following press release:

Ford Motor Company announced today at the New York Auto Show that it will follow the introduction of four all-new cars in 2004 with a new mid-size sedan in 2005 – the 2006 Ford Futura – as part of a comprehensive revitalization of the Ford brand’s car line up.

"We have an incredible array of new products coming next year – a freshened Focus, the Five Hundred, the Freestyle, the Ford GT and the all-new Mustang. But Ford’s product-led revitalization – and the resurgence of our car business – will not end there," says Steve Lyons, president of Ford Division. "We’re applying every lesson we have learned about vehicle interior design, packaging, driving dynamics and powertrain performance while adding a dose of design edge from the Ford 427 concept to create the new Ford Futura."

The Futura will be aimed squarely at the heart of the mid-size car market, where sedans like the Honda Accord have achieved considerable success. But the Futura has an all-American design – and is unmistakably a Ford car. It will boast world-class I-4 and V-6 engines and will come with a range of fuel efficient, modern transmissions, including manual, automatic and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and many other best-in-class features.

Futura also will become Ford’s second full hybrid vehicle.

The Ford Futura, Five Hundred and Freestyle are among the 65 new products Ford, Lincoln and Mercury will introduce in North America during the next five years. The Futura is built on a new vehicle architecture that will form the basis for up to 10 new products and 800,000 units of volume across all three brands within the next three years.

Unmistakably American

The Futura is designed to be immediately recognizable as an American car – and a Ford. It takes design inspiration and cues from the critically acclaimed Ford 427 concept car that is currently touring North American auto shows.

The Futura’s profile is clean, smooth and unfettered by extraneous detail. The production Futura will borrow the vertical and linear front fascia from the 427 concept car, replete with its powerful thick bent bar grille inspired by some of Ford’s landmark sedans from the 1960s.

"The Futura has been conceived to pull at consumers’ heartstrings, not their purse strings," says J Mays, vice president, Design, Ford Motor Company. "Futura will be that rare mid-size sedan that oozes style but doesn’t sacrifice roominess, comfort, trunk space – or affordability."

Optimizing space for five passengers and all of the things people travel with – from water bottles to compact discs – was a priority for the Futura design team.

The Futura’s interior will benefit from an unrelenting commitment to vehicle interior leadership. In fact, Ford has tripled its investment in interior design and development for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles during the past few years, which is already evident in the Lincoln Navigator and Aviator, the 2004 Ford F-150 and the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans.

World-Class Powertrains – Including Ford’s Second HEV

The Futura also will benefit from the massive investment Ford has made to develop powerful but lightweight and fuel-efficient engines and fuel-economy-boosting transmissions.

"Futura will offer a world-class powertrain for the economy-minded consumer, the enthusiast and the environmentally committed driver," says David Szczupak, vice president, Powertrain Operations.

An all-aluminum 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine based on Ford’s new global I-4 engine architecture will be standard. It will be fitted with a counter-rotating balance shaft for smoothness, and it will feature four valves per cylinder and variable intake valve timing (VVT) for good low-end torque, strong high-end power, improved fuel economy and low emissions. This engine weighs approximately 40 pounds less than Ford’s current Zetec 2.0-liter I-4 engine.

Four-cylinder power will be a key to Futura’s success:

Today’s mid-size car segment leaders sell from 50 to 80 percent of their volume with four-cylinder engines
Approximately 25 percent of small-car buyers migrate to mid-size cars, and more than three-quarters of them purchase a four-cylinder model
The performance of Futura’s four-cylinder engine will be significantly enhanced by modern, fuel efficient transmissions, while Futura’s optional 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 engine will raise the performance bar even higher.

An additional Futura powerplant – which will be introduced after the 4- and 6-cylinder models enter production – will be the hybrid electric powertrain developed first for the Ford Escape Hybrid.

The Futura Hybrid, like the Escape Hybrid, mates a 2.3-liter I-4 gasoline engine with a 65-kilowatt electric motor. As a full hybrid, it will have the capability to run on full-battery power, the gas engine alone or gas and battery together. Full hybrids dramatically improve fuel economy and reduce emissions in city driving – particularly in "stop and go" traffic by shutting down the gasoline engine and running on battery power alone.

The gasoline engine starts on demand when the driver requires more acceleration. The gas engine also is used for steady-state highway cruising. The battery is recharged using regenerative braking. Performance will approach the level of the Duratec V-6, but with fuel economy better than a similarly sized four-cylinder car.

Car Resurgence

The launch of Ford’s new car showroom will help drive important improvements to the brand’s overall business structure.

"We’re making full use of the best technologies and components available across Ford Motor Company, including vehicle architectures, engines, transmissions and safety equipment. That’s smart investing – both financially and for quality," says Phil Martens, vice president, Product Creation, North America.

The Futura’s architecture, for example, was developed from a modified Mazda6 design. The Five Hundred and Freestyle also share a common vehicle architecture. All three products use engine architectures proven across a wide range of Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda products.

On the manufacturing side, Ford will use flexible manufacturing at the Chicago Assembly Plant to tailor production of Five Hundred and Freestyle to exactly line up with consumer demand.

Manufacturing plans for Futura will be announced at a later date.

Another area where Ford expects significant improvement is in car market share, even though the annual production of each individual new nameplate by itself will be well below the average production of the Taurus, the brand’s sole entry in the mid-size segment today.

"We’re eager to show that Ford – the leader in SUVs and pickup trucks – can field a full range of car products that are the equal of any competitor in the world," says Lyons. "The combined volume of Futura, Five Hundred and Freestyle will exceed that of Taurus alone, and the mix of sales will be heavily concentrated on retail consumers. This will help enhance our brand image in the car market, improve our residual values and reduce incentive spending."

With 10 new products and 800,000 units of volume within the next three years, the Futura platform will bring a whole new family of products to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury showrooms.

"With Futura slotted between Focus and Five Hundred in our showrooms, we will have a very orderly, logical progression in price, cabin volume and overall size from the bottom of our car range to the top," Lyons says. "The Freestyle crossover will complement these traditional cars by attracting customers looking to blend SUV attributes like all-wheel drive with three rows of seating and the driving dynamics of a car."
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