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Ford Flex fails to wow at car show

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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18021283/

When Ford’s Flex rolled onto the stage last week at the New York auto show, the reaction from the automotive journalists gathered to witness its debut was decidedly mixed. The boxy, six-passenger crossover is being positioned as Ford’s more stylish alternative to the minivan, a segment it abandoned in 2006.

To some, the Flex looked like a strange, oversized Mini Cooper, although others saw merit in its distinctively modern feel. And there was some confusion about the name, which seemed to suggest a flexible-fuel vehicle that can alternate between two fuel sources.

(In fact, the name refers to vehicle’s “flexibility” in hauling passenger and cargo, and there are no special fuel attributes other then a “capless” fueling system that saves you from forgetting to put the gas cap back on after fueling.)

At times, Ford appears overly focused on gimmicks. The Flex was the automaker’s top offering at the New York show. The automaker's other offerings included several limited-edition vehicles: the Funkmaster Flex Ford Expedition, a version of the SUV designed for hip-hop impresario Funkmaster Flex, an F-150 pickup truck redesigned by car customizer Chip Foose and the 540-horsepower “King of the Road” Shelby GT500KR Mustang, devised by racing legend Carroll Shelby.

The showing did little to impress analysts looking for serious signs of a turnaround at the struggling carmaker.

“Ford already has fancy versions of the Mustang out there, so another halo vehicle with a limited production run is nice, but it doesn’t do anything for Ford’s bottom line,” said Aaron Bragman, a Global Insight analyst. “The Flex is a much more critical vehicle for Ford — it has to sell, and it has to sell in some volume and at the appropriate price to make up for the money that Ford is not making on the Expedition and the Explorer and reduced volumes of the F-150.”

The unique-looking Flex — which joins the Edge and Taurus X in Ford’s growing lineup of crossovers — is designed to stand out in “an increasingly crowded sea of crossovers” said J Mays, Ford’s chief creative officer. Indeed, when it goes on sale next year it will include a host of “cool” features, like a refrigerator in the second row of seats, a 2,300-song juke box and a multipanel sunroof. Safety features include a rear back-up camera and electronic stability control.

Ford is hoping to capture a chunk of the automotive industry’s fastest-growing segment, taking on crossovers like the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, although while you can go out and buy a GMC Acadia and a Saturn Outlook now, you’ll have to wait until mid-2008 to get your hands on the new Flex.

U.S. crossover sales rose to more than 2.2 million units last year, up from about 700,000 in 2000, according to J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network. Minivan sales by contrast fell under 1 million units from about 1.3 million in 2000.

Ford badly needs a blockbuster hit. Like rivals General Motors and Chrysler, Ford has been racking up heavy losses, pummeled by Asian automakers that have taken a growing share of the U.S. market. The Big Three also are saddled with billions of dollars in healthcare and pension obligations and have been hurt by a shift away from profitable but gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks.

All three automakers have announced massive layoffs, plant closures and a shake-up of their product offerings, but the outlook for Ford is bleaker than its rivals. GM, the world’s largest automaker, is starting to stem the flow of red ink, and Chrysler is likely to be sold by its German parent, DaimlerChrysler.

But Ford, which lost $12.7 billion last year, the largest loss in its 103-year history, has mortgaged factories, buildings and brands to secure a $23 billion line of credit to fund its restructuring plan and cover the losses it expects to rack up until 2009, when it hopes to turn a profit.

“This is Ford’s last shot,” said Bragman. “If they can’t turn this thing around, things are going to be difficult in the years ahead because the whole company is mortgaged. They had to get that loan because the liquidity situation was untenable. They were not turning a profit at their automotive operations. But in 2009 they have to turn a profit and start paying back some of the money they have secured. If they don’t manage to do it, it’s going to be a very difficult situation for Ford.”

Unfortunately, Ford has shown little sign it has a strong pipeline of new vehicles coming to market, analysts say.

“We are concerned that we don’t see the same activity we are seeing at other automakers in their turnarounds,” said Bragman.

“If you look at GM, they’ve done a good job of communicating their plans for the future to the industry at large, and as such they really have restored confidence in their turnaround plan. Ford should be announcing to the world the products that they plan to come up with — the products coming out in the next three to five years — because that’s what is going to restore the confidence in much of the industry that they can turn their business around.”

One positive for Ford is the elevation of the company’s chief vehicle designer, J Mays, who is responsible for shaping the design direction of Ford’s eight global brands. A criticism of Ford has been the blandness of its design, particularly of vehicles like the Ford Five Hundred, now renamed the Taurus. Mays is credited with redesign successes like the new Volkswagen Beetle and the Ford Thunderbird, and his prominence at Ford will help the company focus on producing well-styled vehicles, analysts say.

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a- J Mays sucks. here is a synapses of his design skills at Ford. "Copy Audi and VW, but make them look like cheaper versions of it. Then, spoil it with terrible detailing." make everything boxy and square looking.

b- i pretty much said in the other flex topic what they are saying with this article....this is not going to be a big seller.

To some, the Flex looked like a strange, oversized Mini Cooper, although others saw merit in its distinctively modern feel. And there was some confusion about the name, which seemed to suggest a flexible-fuel vehicle that can alternate between two fuel sources.

yeah, that too.

In order for Ford to make it through the next 2-3 years, what they will need to do is PROMOTE THE SNOT OUT OF and MAKE BIG IMPROVEMENTS to their existing core products.....TAURUS/SABLE FUSION/MILAN and EDGE/AVIATOR.

If I am running Ford, these models get shoved down your throats. Dashboards and interiors get fixed, Powertrains and handling get pumped up. Special models get introduced. Incentives. TV ads, radio, print, internet.

Ford was too incompetent to maintain sales on a product like Windstar which used to sell like what 150-200k a year. they botch freestar and freestyle, so they revert to a risky niche type thing like the Flex as their only egg in their basket to cover the BOOMING crossover segment and take on the Lambdas.

Ford is going to need to rebadge a CX-9 to plug this segment now it seems. That's what I would do until they stretch the edge to 3 rows.

meh. Taurus/Fusion/Edge is their only hope for surviving. that, and free gas promotions on their F-150.

Edited by regfootball
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As others have said before, "Flex" is a damn stupid name. It ruins a vehicle which will be the best in Ford's lineup. I love the Flex and would take one in an instant.

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Ya know, with all the troube that Ford's in, you'd think they'd actually pull their heads out of their asses and go "Hey, the Interceptor and MKR concepts we have are pretty snazzy looking cars. Maybe we should build them"

Hell, I'd enjoy seeing the Airstream go into production. "Its too unconventional and different...WAAAAAAAHHH!"

That's a big part of selling f@#king cars when you f@#king can't, Ford! Right now, even if they were the most well-put-together cars in history, hardly anyone in America is going to give a $h! about them when they look like a rice cake tastes and don't get 35+ miles per gallon.

Take a f@#king chance or go out of business. Either way, just quit f@#king around and DO something.

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Ya know, with all the troube that Ford's in, you'd think they'd actually pull their heads out of their asses and go "Hey, the Interceptor and MKR concepts we have are pretty snazzy looking cars. Maybe we should build them"

Hell, I'd enjoy seeing the Airstream go into production. "Its too unconventional and different...WAAAAAAAHHH!"

That's a big part of selling f@#king cars when you f@#king can't, Ford! Right now, even if they were the most well-put-together cars in history, hardly anyone in America is going to give a $h! about them when they look like a rice cake tastes and don't get 35+ miles per gallon.

Take a f@#king chance or go out of business. Either way, just quit f@#king around and DO something.

LX cars anyone? Look what they did for Chrysler...if Chrysler had kept that strategy with all of their vehicles they wouldn't be where they were today. As for Ford...they should look at it like this: Look, no one's buying our cars right now and we're doing really bad...we could even go under...let's just take a risk and build the Interceptor and MKR...worse comes to worse they fail and we go under anyway...or they could be a huge hit and help save our asses.

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LX cars anyone? Look what they did for Chrysler...if Chrysler had kept that strategy with all of their vehicles they wouldn't be where they were today. As for Ford...they should look at it like this: Look, no one's buying our cars right now and we're doing really bad...we could even go under...let's just take a risk and build the Interceptor and MKR...worse comes to worse they fail and we go under anyway...or they could be a huge hit and help save our asses.

Yeah, that'd be the logical step to take, but noooo.

Nope, they're still building the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car and their idea of a turnaround apparently consists of mortaging their company while they do NOTHING about their products but rename them. Good idea, Mullaly. I'm sure we'll remember your inspirational leadership years after you've turned Ford Motor Company into the world's biggest f@#king Darwin Award.

Even Chrysler is more on the road to recovery. They know what's wrong and at least they're starting to fix it, but Ford, god...they neglected their cars in favor of SUVs and trucks like GM and Chrysler...but while GM and Chrysler are moving their focus towards their cars, Ford seems to still be focusing on SUVs and trucks.

Edited by AxelTheRed
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a- J Mays sucks. here is a synapses of his design skills at Ford. "Copy Audi and VW, but make them look like cheaper versions of it. Then, spoil it with terrible detailing." make everything boxy and square looking.

A Chinese firm should hire J Mays as design director. The quaity of car design at both firms would go up 100%.
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Ya know, with all the troube that Ford's in, you'd think they'd actually pull their heads out of their asses and go "Hey, the Interceptor and MKR concepts we have are pretty snazzy looking cars. Maybe we should build them"

There's an entire lineup of Ford concepts that would make an excellent fleet...
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As others have said before, "Flex" is a damn stupid name. It ruins a vehicle which will be the best in Ford's lineup. I love the Flex and would take one in an instant.

I kinda like the Flex too. Hope it's a hit and not just another good car from Ford that fails.

Ford really needs to sharpen up their act and tell us why their vehicles are great. I read or saw something about this car, can't remember where. Basically the jist was that the Flex was for people who can't make up their mind between an SUV, CUV, minivan, or wagon. This is not a good sign at all.

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Flex is a sort of silly name, but that doesn't stop the actual car from being the most impressive Ford I've seen in a long time.

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There's an entire lineup of Ford concepts that would make an excellent fleet...

I agree.

Ford could probably return to profitability soon if they halted the Mercury brand (don't kill it, just discontinue it for a few years), cut out some of their underperforming models and actually built some of the concepts they've shown in the last few years. BAM! Instant turnaround, I'd bet.

Too bad Mulally's acting like he's TRYING to put Ford out of business.

Edited by AxelTheRed
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Flex: like the vehicle, hate the name. It is disconnected. Fairlane resonates.
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:thumbsup:

Ya know, with all the troube that Ford's in, you'd think they'd actually pull their heads out of their asses and go "Hey, the Interceptor and MKR concepts we have are pretty snazzy looking cars. Maybe we should build them"

Hell, I'd enjoy seeing the Airstream go into production. "Its too unconventional and different...WAAAAAAAHHH!"

That's a big part of selling f@#king cars when you f@#king can't, Ford! Right now, even if they were the most well-put-together cars in history, hardly anyone in America is going to give a $h! about them when they look like a rice cake tastes and don't get 35+ miles per gallon.

Take a f@#king chance or go out of business. Either way, just quit f@#king around and DO something.

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I kinda like the Flex too. Hope it's a hit and not just another good car from Ford that fails.

Ford really needs to sharpen up their act and tell us why their vehicles are great. I read or saw something about this car, can't remember where. Basically the jist was that the Flex was for people who can't make up their mind between an SUV, CUV, minivan, or wagon. This is not a good sign at all.

fusion-what, 220 whopping hp and not a very spacious cabin, no svt

500 (my car!)- lots of cabin noise, cheap interior, 203 hp!

edge-4500 pounds when the murano is like 4000

focus-going on our 9th year? nothing above 140hp!

crown vic- IT'S A CLASSIC!

ranger- um, its looked the same since 1994?

escape- a MCE that is actually a step backwards?

mustang- an early hit, not has become dated rather quickly

freestar-can you do a minivan interior any worse? bad powertrain with terrible mpg also.

I wouldn't bet the farm on any of that helping!

Edited by regfootball
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Which would you rather have?

Personally I like them both but the 427 is just so much ballsy...so much cooler...it doesn't look like it's trying to be Japerican...it looks all American. That's what made the LX cars such a hit...Ford use your damn heads!

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427 would make a fine big brother to Fusion... however... I like the Interceptor better. FORD... build the Interceptor!
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I have to say that I was one that thought the Fairlane concept had the potential to be groundbreaking and could have been a big seller. After seeing the Flex, I don't feel that way at all. My biggest issue is the front over hang. I can't exactly say why, but I think a short front overhang would have done wonders. Great idea...poor execution.

Also, I know it's been said a number of times, but Ford is completely screwed. GM has gained a tremendous amount of traction in their turnaround, but if you look at the numbers, the going is slow on the demand side. Their new products are more than capable of competing, but it takes time to break the built-up negative perception surrounding your domestic manufacturers. The only way to break these perceptions is to have great product after great product and it doens't look like Ford's up to the challenge.

And, when things really hit the fan, Ford is completely leveraged...they have no where to go.

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I hate to say it, but I agree with just about everything in this thread.

FORD! Grow a pair and build a few of those fantastic concepts you've been ignoring!

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"LX cars anyone?" Umm, sales are down for the holy 300C. Chargers are mainly fleet queens. Magnum?? Isn't that an old TV show? Also, I would not call putting a "for sale, best offer, take it off our hands" sign on the door of Chrysler Division a "recovery".

Enthusiasts also have to wake up and see that gas is never going to be cheap, and high horsepower V8/RWD is not "the answer", when the Feds are ready to pull the trigger and rasie CAFE to 34MPG. The hottest segment is crossovers, not RWD sedans. In fact the 300 series was outsold by the Fusion last month. Even if Ford put the 427 concept body onto the Panther, [what that car really was], it would NOT have 'saved them' at all.

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"LX cars anyone?" Umm, sales are down for the holy 300C. Chargers are mainly fleet queens. Magnum?? Isn't that an old TV show? Also, I would not call putting a "for sale, best offer, take it off our hands" sign on the door of Chrysler Division a "recovery".

Enthusiasts also have to wake up and see that gas is never going to be cheap, and high horsepower V8/RWD is not "the answer", when the Feds are ready to pull the trigger and rasie CAFE to 34MPG. The hottest segment is crossovers, not RWD sedans. In fact the 300 series was outsold by the Fusion last month. Even if Ford put the 427 concept body onto the Panther, [what that car really was], it would NOT have 'saved them' at all.

I half agree with this. I don't think it's fair to slam the 300 because sales have fallen off. The 300 is aging poorly because it was high-styled and it's falling out of style now. But that's been Chrysler's thing, they swing for the fences. The problem with trying to hit home runs is that you don't hit a lot of them and they're only good for so long. The 300 was a homer, but Chrysler hasn't had one since, that's their problem. I think there is a way to do RWD right, at a lower price point with more mainstream appeal and more staying power. That's why I didn't like the Interceptor, it was too muscle car focused. If Ford wants to do RWD, they should be focused on building an Avalon fighter that has a high-powered trim level for enthusiasts. Engineer it to peak performance and fuel efficiency with a lower displacement V6 and then worry about trying to cram a V8 in later.

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