U.S.A.:Ford Aims for Ferrari, Other Supercars With New GT
By John Porretto
SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. harkened back to the 1960s for a new high-end speedster it hopes will lure drivers who typically opt for exotic Italian sports cars.
Some analysts say the Ford GT, which will hit some showrooms by mid-2004 with a price tag approaching $150,000, is the most extreme performance car from a domestic automaker since possibly the introduction of the original Ford GT40 in the mid-1960s. The world’s No. 2 automaker is gunning for folks who might now drive a Ferrari 360 Modena or Lamborghini Gallardo.
“In contemporary days, there isn’t much that compares with the GT,” said Mike Wall, an industry analyst and forecaster with CSM Worldwide. “My sense is it’s an image thing for Ford. They’re not going to make a ton of money because it’s a low-volume car, but they still want to show the world they can design these hot rides.”
About a dozen automotive journalists tested the 500-horsepower GT on Thursday at GingerMan Raceway in this western Michigan town on Lake Michigan. To gauge the two-seater’s handling and ride, some reached speeds of 115 miles per hour on the 1.9-mile road course.
At 100 mph in third gear, the car was still manageable on the road course, with very responsive steering. It has six gears and can reach more than 200 mph.
The car features a long front overhang reminiscent of 1960s-era race cars, but its subtle lines strike a contemporary pose. It’s also 18 inches longer and nearly 4 inches taller than its predecessor. It can get from zero to 60 mph in less than 3.8 seconds.
“We wanted this to be a car that someone could really aspire to,” said Chris Theodore, Ford’s vice president for advanced product creation. “We wanted something to polish the Ford oval.” Ford introduced the GT concept car at the 2002 North American International Auto Show and announced plans for production 45 days later — a quick turnaround in the car business. The GT is modeled after the Ford GT endurance racers that conquered the Le Mans circuit in the 1960s. In 1966, the cars finished in the top three spots in the 24-hour race.
Then-Chairman Henry Ford II ordered up the GT40 for production after his unsuccessful attempt to buy Ferrari in 1963. Ford made the original GTs from 1964 to 1969. In 1967, a version of the GT sold for $18,500 in the United States.
“It’s ironic that in the 1960s Ford brought out the GT racer to dominate Ferrari on the premier race circuits of the world, and in the not-too-distant future the Ford GT will return to outgun Ferrari once again,” said John Coletti, director of Ford’s special vehicle team programs and one of roughly 150 Ford and outside engineers to collaborate on the GT project.
Ford plans to produce about 1,000 GTs annually starting early next year. They’ll be built at its plant in the Detroit suburb of Wixom. Ford’s engine plant in nearby Romeo will turn out the car’s supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine.
Analysts say the nearest domestic competitor to the GT is the Dodge Viper sports car, which debuted in 1992 and sells for about $81,000. Dodge introduced the third-generation Viper, the 500-horsepower SRT-10, last year. Spokesman Todd Goyer said the company typically sells between 1,500 and 2,000 Vipers a year.
Ferrari spokesman Luca Dal Monte said the Italian automaker sold about 4,000 cars worldwide last year, including 1,200 in North America. The bulk of those North American sales was the $155,000 360 Modena, Ferrari’s top-selling vehicle, Dal Monte said.
After spending much of the last year beefing up its sport utility vehicles and this year doing the same to its trucks and minivans, Ford has turned its attention to an aging car lineup. The GT’s launch next year will be joined by the large Five Hundred sedan and a new Mustang. In 2005 the new Futura will take its place between the smaller Focus and the Five Hundred.
Wall said some might argue that Ford could have spent its engineering and design dollars on a vehicle with more profit potential than the GT, particularly for a company that lost $6.4 billion in 2001 and 2002 and is cutting expenses vigorously.
But there is an upside, he said.
“It should improve the brand’s image and get people into dealerships, provided the dealers have one to show,” he said. “I think they’ve also learned a lot developing this vehicle that may help them on others.”
(Photo)Ford Motor Co. hopes to lure drivers who typically opt for exotic Italian sports cars like Ferrari and Lamborghini with its new Ford GT.
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My next Ford.....