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Old 12-11-2004, 23:06   #1 (permalink)
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US:John Coletti: Ford hot-rod king retires

Ford hot-rod king retires

The departure of John Coletti,who revived the Mustang, changes team's gears.

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News


Phil Martens, Ford vice president of product creation, says SVT is what it is today because of John Coletti.

SVT milestones
1991: Ford SVT division established
1993: Mustang Cobra, Mustang Cobra R, F-150 Lightning arrive in showrooms
1994: Mustang Cobra chosen for Indy 500 pace car
1996: Mustang Cobra tops 300-hp benchmark with output of 305 hp
1997: SVT Contour arrives in dealerships; all-time SVT sales hit 50,000 units
1999: Lightning introduced with supercharged V-8 making 360 hp; a shortfall of 50-horsepower leads to Mustang Cobra recall
2000: Third-generation Cobra R debuts as fastest production Mustang ever with top speed of 170 mph; last year for SVT Contour as base car disappears from Ford showrooms
2002: SVT Focus added to lineup; all-time SVT production hits 100,000 units
2003: Mustang Cobra output hits 390 hp; SVT announces hiatus until Mustang Cobra returns as a 2007 model
2004: Last model year for SVT Focus; plans for next-generation Lightning shelved indefinitely to allow engineers to focus on the Mustang Cobra


Coletti

Ford Motor Co.'s high-performance car guru, John Coletti, is retiring after 32 years with the company, a departure that leaves the automaker's Special Vehicle Team at a crossroads.

The charismatic Coletti, 55, will leave Ford this month as director of SVT, which gave birth to popular vehicles such as the SVT Mustang Cobra and F-150 Lightning.

Regarded throughout the industry as a leading innovator of hot-rod vehicles, Coletti helped SVT chalk up sales of more than 100,000 premium-priced, high-performance cars and trucks since 1992.

"John is an icon," said Phil Martens, Ford's group vice president of product creation. "Inside and outside of the company, he is extremely highly regarded. You have to step back and say, quite frankly, SVT is what it is today because of John."

Coletti said his decision was a personal one. "I've been thinking about this since March," he said. "This is the right time. It's an orderly succession."

Coletti is confident that SVT will thrive. "They have a cycle plan," he said. "That organization is going to endure."

At the moment, though, SVT is stuck in neutral. The end of the 2004 model year marked the beginning of a two-year hiatus for SVT-brand Ford vehicles.

Production of the next-generation F-150 SVT Lightning pickup will be postponed until after the debut in 2006 of the 2007 SVT Mustang Cobra. And the 2004 model is the last for the SVT Focus, which garnered acclaim for its spunk and handling.

Longtime fans of the SVT vehicles are concerned about the direction of the line.

"Lightning owners are very disappointed," said Brian Shafranek, 42, of Pittsburgh, who owns a 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra. "I would like to see the brand expanded."

With SVT in for a prolonged pit stop, the competition is expanding their high-performance offering.

The Street and Racing Technology, or SRT, division of DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is launching its eighth product in February with the debut of the Chrysler 300 SRT-8.

And General Motors Corp. is rolling out a pair of Saturn vehicles under its Red Line brand, while Cadillac and Chevrolet plan to market more high-performance models.

While SVT engineers work on the next Mustang Cobra, Ford could miss out on potential profits.

"A lot of us are making some reasonably good money because niche products are selling," said Dan Knott, director of Chrysler's SRT group.

Recent studies show that specialty vehicles, despite the considerable investment required to bring them to market, boost the bottom line for an automaker's mainstream products.

Rochester-based Foresight Research surveyed 40,000 households that purchased new vehicles and found that certain niche vehicles can burnish a brand's image. High-performance brands such as BMW's M line and Mercedes-Benz's AMG division can inspire the purchase of a mainstream vehicle or draw showroom traffic that could lead to a sale.

"We would love to see Ford continue emphasizing SVT because it has a lot of positive effects," said Steven Bruyn, Foresight's chief executive officer.

Martens said Ford plans to be back in the high-performance game eventually.

"We have a very clear view of what we want to do," he said. "And one or two is not enough."

The F-150 Lightning was postponed to allow engineers to focus on the Mustang Cobra, which has an avid following among horsepower junkies.

"The demand for the Mustang is beyond our wildest dreams," Martens said. "The expectation is that the Cobra will be delivered on time with quality."

Ford will reveal more plans for SVT next spring at the New York auto show.

"We absolutely have to be a leader ... in performance vehicles. It's part of our DNA. But we have to do it in a broader range than just the traditional SVT product programs," Martens said. "There's a broad opportunity for four-wheel-drive, high-performance, (four-cylinder), turbo-type of programs."

Hau Thai Tang -- Ford's newly appointed director of advanced product creation, replacing Chris Theodore, who is retiring -- has assumed responsibility for SVT.

Ford also has disbanded its Ford Performance Group, which was launched in 2002 to develop performance vehicles for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Ford plans to adopt engineering lessons it learned from the quick development of the Ford GT, a 550-horsepower super sports car launched this year.

Coletti and Theodore played key roles in bringing the GT to market.

The GT and SVT vehicles helped make a star out of Coletti, who holds several performance technology patents. Coletti, who joined in 1972 as a product design engineer, was instrumental in reviving the Mustang in the early 1990s after then-Ford Chairman Alex Trotman considered killing the nameplate or turning it into a front-drive Mazda derivative.

"He was at the forefront, from the engineering side and even the marketing side," said Steve Saleen, president of Saleen Inc., which makes its own brand of high-performance Mustangs.
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Old 12-11-2004, 23:31   #2 (permalink)
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Re: US:John Coletti: Ford hot-rod king retires

Coletti would have never retired if the company didn't treat SVT so pathetically.
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Old 12-13-2004, 10:24   #3 (permalink)
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Re: US:John Coletti: Ford hot-rod king retires

Aye,

Too bad he is going. What does this mean for the next generation of SVT cars/trucks?

Can only hope that we dont lose the brand.
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Old 12-16-2004, 08:06   #4 (permalink)
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Re: US:John Coletti: Ford hot-rod king retires

Ford's SVT leader to retire at year end; automaker says performance group will continue

AMY WILSON | Automotive News

DETROIT -- The spirited leader of Ford Motor Co.'s special vehicle team is leaving as the SVT program gets new leadership and an expanded role.

After 11 years with SVT, director John Coletti, 55, will retire at year end.

His retirement follows the Dec. 1 departure of Ford product executive Chris Theodore, who backed Coletti. Ford also appointed a new SVT overseer, chief Mustang engineer Hau Thai-Tang, three weeks ago. Tom Scarpello, longtime SVT marketing and sales manager, moved to a new job at Jaguar in November.

The upheaval at SVT, combined with the absence of SVT products for the 2005 model year, has triggered questions about the future of Ford's performance group. But Ford product chief Phil Martens says SVT is here to stay.

"We've retooled SVT," Martens says. "We've appointed Hau, and we still think that's a growth part of our business."

Within the next four years, SVT will have more products than at any time, Martens says. The group's previous high was three, most recently in the 2004 model year.

The redesigned Mustang Cobra SVT is coming in 2006. A redesigned F-150 Lightning SVT pickup had been in the works, but the project was put on ice this year.

SVT will focus on "affordable performance," Martens says. Increased turbocharging and supercharging are part of the plan. Ford has considered developing an SVT version of the 2006 Ford Fusion mid-sized sedan.

Reviving Focus SVT?

Martens notes that product planners are taking another look at a Focus SVT. Ford discontinued the souped-up compact after the 2004 model year, saying the Focus wasn't upscale enough to sustain a performance version.

The door is open for other uses for the SVT program. Though SVT products always will retain a performance element, the group could develop more fuel-efficient engines that could migrate to larger mainstream vehicles, Martens says.

Ford will provide more detail on coming SVT products at the 2005 New York auto show in March.

Last hurrah

Coletti, Ford's master of going faster, says the SVT group is in good shape as he leaves.

"You have a cycle plan," Coletti says. "You will be putting some very special products on the street, and Ford is backing it."

In addition to the Mustang Cobra SVT, the group is working on a halo car to replace the high-performance Ford GT, the project Coletti considers his last hurrah after 33 years at Ford.

"How can you top this?" Coletti asks. "The GT, to me, is just the crowning achievement in my life."

Coletti, known for his enthusiastic personality, doesn't rule out working for another auto company eventually. But he says he'd have to be offered the chance to work on a car better than the GT.

He wouldn't provide details about the GT's successor. Production of the GT will end in 2006 due to new federal crash regulations that would require a reworking of the car. c

Product Editor Rick Kranz contributed to this report.
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