This happened a few years ago at an introduction of the CDW27 in America. That'sMotor Co.'s global car, the Mondeo in Europe, the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique in the States.
One of's highest ranking executives said softly to me: "If this doesn't work, we'll never try it again." Well, it hasn't worked. The Contour and Mystique are not great successes, but Ford is trying it again anyway.
Think for a moment: Ford's pickups and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs) are home runs, but most of the cars are, well, failures. The company hasbet on global platforms to dig itself out of the hole. It's a deep hole, but it might work. First, look at the hole.
At the low end, the Kia-built Aspire has been killed: Failure. Secondly, coupes, the Probe, Thunderbird and Mark VIII, have been killed: Failures. The Escort has gone from best seller in the small car class to No.3 and would be doing well if it could break even.
The global Contour has never been a success in the U.S. In Europe yes, but the car is too small and too expensive for what it is in the U.S.
The larger Taurus has dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 in sales. Ford keeps the two Taurus factories rolling only by selling almost half the TAURUSES to fleets. The result is a flood of used Tauruses pushing down used car prices and probably a bath at Ford's finance subsidiary.
One car in the Ford Div. is a winner, the Crown Vic, that big rear-wheel-drive sedan, selling well and very profitably. Why? Because it shares a platform not only with the Mercury Marquis but with the Lincoln Town Car - 315,000 in all built last year.
So seven out of eight cars are failures. Ford's answer is more globalizing, a combination of true global cars for the volume products and imports and exports for the specialty models.
First Car: I'd start at the very bottom and import the tiny Ka, a hit in Europe. Ford people tell me that the current Ka's front structure doesn't meet U.S. standards, so it's not coming here. Maybe the second-generation will make it.
An American Ka would need more power, and tarting up: leather seats and steering wheel, CD, sunroof, so it becomes a "citicar," a not-so-cheap toy for rich folks.
Second car: The 1999 global Escort with the same platform, the same car for Europe and America. Can it work? This is a $20,000 middle class car in Europe. In the U.S., Escort is a bottom-feeder, a good little $12,000 car, but nothing to take to the Polo Lounge.
It's being designed by the same team that brought us the Mondeo/Contour, and that team hasn't yet created a car that appeals to Americans. From the past, we might expect an Escort that's a success in Europe, but overpriced and too conservative for the U.S.
That's all negative. On the positive side, Ford people say they've taken enough cost out of the future model to make it profitable even in the U.S. If the "global" Escort can be a success and profitable in both continents, it will be a major victory for Ford's global strategy.
If not, well, maybe it's time to change the strategy.
Third car: Contour. This was the first of Ford's latest attempts at a global car and arrived even before Ford 2000 became a concrete global plan. But the car was too small and too high-priced for Americans.
What's to be done? Making it bigger would push more into Taurus territory. The best approach might be to design some variations such as, for example, a Contour-based SUV, something to battleCRV and RAV4, a vehicle that could be built on the same assembly line with Contour.
Will that happen? Not to my knowledge, but it is the best idea. Otherwise, Ford is stuck with a global clunker and will just cut production.
Fourth Car: Mercury Cougar: Here is a global strategy working in the other direction. This is a new coupe, to be built on a Contour platform at the Flat Rock plant and sold by Mercury dealers without a Ford Div. counterpart. The volume expectations aren't high - maybe around 50,000 in the U.S. - but Ford figures it may be able to export another 30,000 or so, making the production run more respectable. This is the kind of tactic that allows foreign automakers to build specialty sports cars.
, for example, can build the Z3 in South Carolina because it exports them around the world. The market in the U.S. isn't enough. If the Cougar exports succeed, it opens opportunities for similar ventures on limited-volume models. The all-new Lincoln LS6 and LS8 models coming next year could be next.
Although these cars represent a serious global strategy, they don't deal with a major Ford problem: Taurus. Is there a global strategy for Taurus? Not that I can see. It's possible that future models could be designed with export potential in mind.
Possibly Ford could close one Taurus plant. But it would be better to develop a better Taurus, one that could sell at retail as well as's Accord, or develop related vehicles that could be built on the Taurus line, possibly an SUV, a Taurus version of 's RX300.
Ford is putting its global strategy to the test to deal with its domestic car problems: Ka imports at the low end, a new global Escort, the export plan for Cougar, and maybe something more to give Contour a boost.
We'll just have to see how it all turns out.