DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. continues to insist the new flagship Ford Five Hundred sedan, unveiled here at the North American International Auto Show, does not replace the storied Taurus.

But that’s only half the story – the rest revolves around the smaller Ford Futura, coming in 2005 as an ’06 model. Collectively, the Five Hundred and Futura will replace the Taurus.

Ford Five Hundred

“We are no longer trying to fill the (midsize-car) segment with just one vehicle (Taurus) and end up selling half of them to fleet,” says Steve Lyons, president-Ford Div.

Rather the auto maker is adopting the strategy it long has applied to SUVs: launching products of the right size for the intended market at the right time.

“We will go up and down the market with offerings,” says marketing executive Ben Poole.

When the Five Hundred and platform-mate Mercury Montego go on sale this fall, they will co-exist with the Taurus. The new sedans are not much bigger dimensionally (3 ins. [8 cm] longer than the Taurus), but they are a generation ahead in terms of interior and trunk space. (See related story: Ford Flouts New Car Flagship)

The new sedans complement the Taurus, says Poole. They will be priced higher and the Taurus fills the lower ground until the Futura arrives to fill in the smaller end of the midsize-car segment.

Ford Futura

The timing of the Futura launch after the larger sedans have had a good run also is strategic – Ford doesn’t want to siphon Futura buyers from Five Hundred intenders.

In defense of the Taurus, Lyons says it still is a quality car – it’s consumer tastes that have changed.

And it represents significant fleet business, says Paul Mascarenas, executive director-product development for medium and large platforms. “It’s a good affordable vehicle for that.”