Ford to drop current Freestyle from van plan; vehicle name will likely survive
AMY WILSON | Automotive News and RICK KRANZ | Automotive News
DETROIT -- As it juggles plans for new crossovers and minivan replacements, Ford Motor Co. intends to drop the existing version of its Ford Freestyle sport wagon.
But the Freestyle name will survive, Ford officials say.
The current Freestyle, which went on sale just 10 months ago, will be discontinued after the 2007 model year, several supplier and industry sources say. With sales below expectations, the Freestyle was squeezed out by a proliferation of sport wagons in Ford's plans.
A Ford source acknowledged that the current Freestyle will vanish.
That represents a significant change in plans. Previously, Ford had scheduled a facelift for the Freestyle for the 2008 model year, giving it the Ford brand's new three-bar horizontal grille.
A Mercury version of the current Freestyle will be produced in 2007, as planned.
The Freestyle decision highlights the fluidity of product planning at Ford now. Timing, assembly plants and platforms for several vehicles are in flux, supplier and company sources said. This summer's contract negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers union likely are delaying some final approvals.
Ford is expected to shift the Freestyle name to one of several crossovers and minivan replacements being developed on the Volvo-derived D3 and Mazda6-based CD3 platforms.
These include Ford and Lincoln minivan replacements - which the company calls "people movers" - inspired by the Ford Fairlane concept shown at the 2005 Detroit auto show. That concept used the CD3 platform. But Ford now plans to re-engineer the larger Volvo platform for the vehicles, sources said.
Ford also has abandoned long-touted plans to use the CD3 platform for its next-generation minivans, sources say. It now appears Ford will drop its current minivans when the Fairlane-styled Ford and Lincoln vehicles appear.
The changes in the sport wagon-minivan segment pushed out the current Freestyle, sources said.
"They're trying to sort out that whole segment," one supplier source said. "They have the Freestar, the Freestyle and then this Fairlane. There's not enough room for all three of those."
Freestyle sales have been much softer than Ford had anticipated. Since it went on sale, Ford has sold 44,066 Freestyles in the United States. Company officials at one time forecast annual sales of more than 100,000.
'We're very happy'
Ford product chief Phil Martens wouldn't confirm the demise of the current Freestyle or the plan for the Ford Fairlane and Lincoln minivan replacements.
"We have made the proper adjustments, and we're very happy with our product plans down the line," Martens said.
Here is the current plan, according to industry sources:
>> A Mercury version of the Freestyle still is scheduled for production in Chicago in 2007. That will recoup some of the investment in the current Freestyle. But sales of a Mercury model likely will fall far short of a Ford-brand vehicle.
>> The 2007 Lincoln Aviator and what tentatively is being called the Ford Edge will be built at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant beginning about a year from now. They are two-row sport wagons on the Mazda6 platform. A three-row sport wagon also is being developed for Oakville, suppliers say, though it's not clear what badge it will carry.
>> The large Volvo-derived minivan replacements for Ford and Lincoln are scheduled to be built at Ford's Atlanta assembly plant, probably in 2008. Those three-row vehicles are expected to replace Ford's conventional minivans.
Despite earlier plans, Ford ultimately deemed the Mazda6 platform too small for both its minivans and the Fairlane, sources said. While the Fairlane's styling was praised, some journalists attending the Detroit auto show said it was too small. The two top-selling minivans, the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Honda Odyssey, are considerably larger.
>> The Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans are expected to die when the Ford and Lincoln minivan replacements debut, if not before. Sales have faltered badly since the vehicles debuted in late 2003. The Monterey especially is tanking, with recent monthly sales of fewer than 400 units.
Too many products
Product plans at any automaker are always fluid, but things at Ford seem especially muddled, sources say.
"There seems to be a lot of confusion, which is not necessarily new," one supplier source said. "They seem to be kind of in an uproar on what they'll do."
Martens rejected that notion: "We know what we're doing, and there was always a plan."
One industry analyst says the switch with the Freestyle shows that Ford recognizes that the market is looking for other things right now.
"It has not met expectations. And the market is rewarding bold styling," said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates. "But there's a positive spin to this - they're adapting more quickly than they have in the past."