Ford to ground its Lincoln Aviator in '05
Loss is another blow to troubled automaker
August 5, 2003
BY JEFFREY MCCRACKEN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Lagging demand and lagging prices have converged to bring a hasty demise for Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Aviator midsize sport-utility vehicle in 2005, say sources at Ford, the UAW and an interior supplier to the Aviator.
Ford had previously told suppliers to expect full-year sales of 35,000 or more, but through the end of July only 15,164 Aviators were sold. It was just introduced in November and the price for it has dropped nearly $4,000 since then, according to the automotive-pricing Web site Edmunds.com.
The end of the Aviator -- the so-called Baby Navigator -- would be yet another setback for Ford, which is fighting to reverse a $6.4-billion loss in 2001-02. The Aviator would join other high-end, low-volume disappointments like the Lincoln Blackwood luxury sport-utility pickup and the Ford Thunderbird.
The Aviator, a luxury midsize SUV priced between $39,000 and $54,000, was supposed to fit into Ford's lineup between the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Navigator. Auto analysts say it is getting squeezed out by crossovers like Toyota's Lexus RX330, the BMW X5, and the XC90, which is made by Ford's Volvo unit.
"It's not a bad vehicle at all, but it's just not priced right," said Jesse Toprak, senior manager of vehicle pricing at Edmunds.com. "It needs to be in the low-to-mid thirties to draw consumers. At the $40,000 Ford wants, people will go for a larger SUV."
The Aviator's demise is another nail in the coffin for the St. Louis Assembly plant, which builds the Aviator but has been on Ford's to-close list since the automaker revealed a massive cost-cutting plan in January 2002.
A UAW official at the plant who asked not to be named said he's been told Ford will stop making the Aviator in early 2005 and the plant, in Hazelwood, Mo., will close later that year. The plant also makes the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.
"If they were really happy with how this Aviator was doing they could make it at the Louisville Assembly plant or the new Dearborn truck plant, but they don't see the need for that since its sales are struggling," said Michael Wall, auto production analyst at CSM Worldwide, an auto-analysis firm based in Farmington Hills.
Ford officials wouldn't comment on the Aviator's future except to note the Aviator had its second-best sales month in July, with sales of 2,692.
"We are very enthusiastic about the Aviator and the month it just had. It's also bringing people into dealerships," said Sara Tatchio, a Ford spokeswoman.
She noted sales of the Lincoln Navigator -- the SUV priced and sized just ahead of the Aviator -- are up 32.2 percent this year.
Ford will likely replace the truck-based Aviator with some type of Lincoln sports wagon built off the Mazda 6 platform at the Oakville, Ontario plant, say sources familiar with Ford's product-development plan.
That wagon will be a slightly larger version of the Ford Freestyle sports wagon that will be built at the Chicago assembly plant. It will go on sale in late 2006 or 2007, say those sources.
Citing Ford suppliers, Automotive News also reported the Aviator's demise this week.
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.....