Ford will resurrect its Taurus brand
Nameplate will go to slow-selling model
DEARBORN, Michigan: The Ford Taurus, the car credited with reinvigorating American automotive design two decades ago before falling into virtual irrelevance by the time it was retired last year, is coming back to life.
But not as the nameplate on a new car. Instead, Ford is expected to announce Wednesday that it will rechristen the slow-selling Ford Five Hundred sedan the Taurus later this year when a freshened-up version is introduced.
Its cousin, the Mercury Montego, is expected to be renamed the Sable.
Ford stopped making the old Taurus and Sable about three months ago after a 20-year run. Late last year, Ford's newly hired chief executive, Alan Mulally, publicly questioned the wisdom of abandoning such a venerable brand.
A bungled redesign and Ford's decision to focus on more profitable sport utility vehicles in the mid-1990s cost the Taurus its status as the best-selling car in the United States. In its final years, the Taurus was merely an also-ran, available solely to rental-car agencies and other fleet operators.
Still, Ford, which lost $12.7 billion last year, apparently feels the name recognition trumps what little brand equity it has managed to build for the Five Hundred, which is itself a variation of the old Fairlane 500.
Sales of the Five Hundred, which Ford considers its flagship sedan, fell 22 percent in 2006 and amounted to less than half as many units as the fleet-only Taurus.
"The Taurus name has been an outstanding one for us," said a Ford spokeswoman, Sara Tatchio, who would neither confirm nor deny plans for reviving the name. "There's been a whole lot of buzz about it since Alan mentioned also liking the name."
Mulally, a former executive at Boeing, has a personal attachment to the Taurus, having studied its development to help his team overhaul how Boeing built planes.
As all three Detroit automakers struggle, they have been reaching into their past for nostalgic vehicle names. Chrysler brought back the Dodge Charger as a sedan last year. Two classic muscle car names, the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro, are slated to return within a few years.
In Ford's case, though, the Taurus brand had become so damaged by the end that it is unlikely to conjure images of the company's glory days in many car buyers' minds, said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm based in Atlanta.
"Unfortunately, they let the Taurus die," Ries said. "Once you do that to a brand, it's difficult to bring it back. Consumers are not necessarily going to remember the best days of the Taurus."
When new, the Taurus had an aerodynamic, jelly bean-shaped design that stood out from other American-made cars criticized as being too boxy and bland.
It was an immediate and lasting success for Ford.
Ford sold 7 million of the Taurus and millions more of the similar-looking Sable in their time on the market.
8,000 take Ford buyouts
About 8,000 U.S. hourly workers left Ford in January after taking buyout offers, said Mark Fields, overseer of Ford's restructuring, Reuters reported from Chicago.
Transition in the plants "is going very smoothly," Fields told reporters at a dinner ahead of the Chicago Auto Show.
Fields said the massive restructuring was "on track and on time" with plans to cut costs and to improve its entire vehicle line by the end of the decade.
Ford posted a company record net loss of $12.7 billion in 2006.