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CHICAGO – Ford Motor Co. confirms its slow-selling Five Hundred sedan will be renamed the Taurus for the ’08 model year and says the Mercury Montego sedan and Ford Freestyle cross/utility vehicle are to be rebadged the Sable and Taurus X, respectively.

The new vehicles, unveiled at the auto show here, now have names that resonate better with consumers, Mark Fields, president-The Americas, says.

Bowing in 1985, the Taurus is credited with helping pull Ford out of one of its darkest periods, and ranks eighth on the list of all-time best-selling cars in the U.S.

The auto maker halted production on the Taurus in September due to flagging sales, but new Ford CEO Alan Mulally is said to have expressed interest in resurrecting the model.

“The Taurus name today is still recognized by 80% of consumers,” Fields says. “In fact, it’s the third strongest nameplate in the Ford lineup, behind the F-Series and the Mustang.

“As we’re introducing the upgraded ’08-model Ford Five Hundred, we could have ramped up our advertising and hoped to achieve similar (name recognition) to Taurus,” he adds. “But that would take time and even more money to get the wheel turning.”

Building brand recognition of a new nameplate takes more than two years of consistent marketing and millions of dollars to reach appropriate levels, Fields says, noting, “Frankly, that strategy will not work for us.”

He says only four in 10 people are aware of the Five Hundred, and the numbers are even lower for the Freestyle and Montego.

“Awareness of (the) Monetgo was about 20%, while awareness of (the) Sable was 60%, so we tripled it immediately,” Fields says.

The “Sable has a very good image in the marketplace, and when you see the new Sable and the upgrades we’ve made to these products, these vehicles have earned the right to be called those names.”

Fields declines to say whether Ford is scrapping its long-held strategy of naming all its cars with monikers that start with an “F” and all trucks and CUVs with an “E.” However, the auto maker recently switched to an alpha-numeric system for Lincolns.

However, he does say Ford plans to reconsider all its nameplates, retaining those with considerable equity and attributes customers appreciate.

Says Fields: “You have to strike the right balance of having icon nameplates that really drive awareness and recognition of the brand and new nameplates for brands in new segments.”

bpope@wardsauto.com