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Ford's New Minivans

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Ford Reinvents The Minivan

By Dan Lienert

NEW YORK - The minivan, as we know it, appears to be headed for extinction at Ford.

Ford Motor (nyse: F - news - people ) has found itself unable to compete in the minivan market. Its two vans, the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey, had a combined total of 43,701 American sales in the first five months of 2005. This was a decline of 14% and a fraction of the sales of the vans' competitors.

The Freestar and Monterey, through the end of May, matched 70% of the sales of Toyota Motor's (nyse: TM - news - people ) Sienna minivan this year, 61% of the sales of Honda Motor's (nyse: HMC - news - people ) Odyssey and only 24% of the combined sales of DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan.

Ford has therefore decided to scrap the Freestar and Monterey at the end of the 2007 model year, according to supplier sources familiar with the automaker's plans. In its place, Ford and its Lincoln subsidiary will sell new van-like crossover-utility vehicles inspired by Ford's Fairlane prototype from January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new vehicles are likely to arrive as 2008 models.

The Fairlane's roof shows the influence of BMW's Minis and uses stretched canvas. When pulled tightly enough, the canvas is also nice enough to use on the rear passenger seats instead of cloth (the front seats are in leather). With a dashboard and other interior pieces of interesting-looking unfinished oak, the Fairlane is far more upscale than a typical minivan.

An upscale, minivan-like vehicle would make sense as a Freestar replacement. Lincoln tries to cater to a more upscale audience, and the higher-end versions of the Sienna and Odyssey are equipped like luxury cars.

But the new Ford and Lincoln will not look like the Freestar or like any other minivans. The Fairlane prototype did not have a sliding rear door, and neither will its production equivalents. Instead, the new cars will be more like crossovers, such as the Chrysler Pacifica, than minivans. Their size is likely to be somewhere between those of full-size sport utility vehicles and mid-size SUVs. They will ride on Ford's Volvo-based D3 architecture (also known internally as P2X), which underpins the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans and the Ford Freestyle wagon. The architecture, or "platform," can handle front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles.

Although Ford builds the Five Hundred and Montego at Chicago, it will build the new Ford and Lincoln crossovers at the factory in Atlanta, where it has built the Taurus sedan.

The idea behind rethinking Ford's minivan strategy is to disrupt the triumvirate of the minivan market's most successful entries: the Sienna, the Odyssey and the Chrysler/Dodge minivans. The Freestar and Monterey have had ho-hum sales because they are conservative, risk-free competitors--perhaps too risk-free--that have failed to capture the public's imagination, particularly as the best minivans have become more and more fancy.

If Ford executes its minivan replacements properly, the models could be among the hottest cars in the industry in 2008 and 2009. People are looking for more civilized and flexible utility vehicles with better fuel economy--but they still like sizeable SUVs. What they don't like are the bad gas mileage, the difficulty fitting them into garages and the crude chassis dynamics. The Ford and the Lincoln could make great strides in these areas, and could be aimed at people moving down from larger SUVs as well as out of conventional minivans.

The Lincoln, in particular, could break new ground for the automaker. It would give Ford’s luxury brand a direct competitor to such new premium utility vehicles as Daimler's forthcoming Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

Frankly--and speaking in terms of comparative sales performances--nearly anything would be better than the Freestar.

(From Forbes.com.)

Edited by YellowJacket894

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El Scorcho    0

In its place, Ford and its Lincoln subsidiary will sell new van-like crossover-utility vehicles inspired by Ford's Fairlane prototype from January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new vehicles are likely to arrive as 2008 models.

They can't be serious.

Edited by El Scorcho

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If Ford gave the Windstar an attractive interior, stuck with the Windstar moniker, and gave it some noteworthy feature (other than the 4.2L V6), Ford's minivan sales wouldn't have tanked. A minivan-esque vehicle doesn't seem like it would be the best approach to tackling the minivan market to me, but maybe Ford is on to something...

If Ford does make the Fairlane, I hope that they keep the front end (or at least the grille and headlights).

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ehaase    18

The article is out of date. Ford is closing the Atlanta plant. My understanding is that Ford will build these vehicles at the Oakville, Ontario plant.

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Bimmer325    18

I guess if you can't compete effectively in one segment you're forced to create your own.

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pow    106

Is Mercury going to die?

I'm seeing a lot of Mariners lately... two of the ones I saw today were hybrids.

I like the idea of Mercury being the metrosexual Ford.

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Flybrian    0

I'm seeing a lot of Mariners lately... two of the ones I saw today were hybrids.

I like the idea of Mercury being the metrosexual Ford.

I'm sure the AFA would approve.

Seriously though, Ford gets the Edge, Lincoln gets the Aviator/MKXYZ and then Ford gets the Fairlane while Lincoln gets this, probably as the MKCMMMCIVIVII. Where's Mercury's Edge? Where's Mercury's Fairlane?

Mountaineer sales have to be on the slide judging by Explorer numbers and the Monterrey is dead. This leaves Mercury with the Milan, Montego, and Grand Marquis. Wow?

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I guess that Ford thinks the Milan will be enough to indefinitely sustain Mercury. I mean, there are no new products in the pipes for Mercury besides the new Montego and a refreshed Mariner, right?

Edited by DetroitNut90

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pow    106

I'm sure the AFA would approve.

Seriously though, Ford gets the Edge, Lincoln gets the Aviator/MKXYZ and then Ford gets the Fairlane while Lincoln gets this, probably as the MKCMMMCIVIVII. Where's Mercury's Edge? Where's Mercury's Fairlane?

Mountaineer sales have to be on the slide judging by Explorer numbers and the Monterrey is dead. This leaves Mercury with the Milan, Montego, and Grand Marquis. Wow?

Which is sad, because the whole Mercury treatment is pretty tasteful. I love the Mountaineer interior, particularly the unique materials (terry-like door inserts, metal finish, etc) and color combinations (cream on black, contrast stitching, etc). Outside, the brushed aluminum exterior details are lovely.

IDK why anyone would buy an Exploder over a Mountaineer.

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regfootball    234

windstar used to sell huge. between windstar problems and the the complete f-king up of the new Freestar and Monterey (in GRANDIOSE FASHION) Ford really blew it. BIG TIME. Thing is, its not that tough to design and build a popular minivan. Its just that you have to invest in the product and stay current with design and features.

this is what I don't get about the decision makers that run our car companies. THEY DON'T SEEM TO GET THAT YOU HAVE TO INVEST AND GIVE PEOPLE WHAT THEY EXPECT.

my guess is Ford is simply sitting out minivans until a few years have passed, than they will jump in again.

they ought to consider making the fairlane with sliding doors, regardless.

oddly enough, this is a vehicle i would consider, along with the new Enclave

Edited by regfootball

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regfootball    234

People are looking for more civilized and flexible utility vehicles with better fuel economy--but they still like sizeable SUVs. What they don't like are the bad gas mileage, the difficulty fitting them into garages and the crude chassis dynamics. The Ford and the Lincoln could make great strides in these areas, and could be aimed at people moving down from larger SUVs as well as out of conventional minivans.

as long as they don't dumb down the handling and powertrain and make it flabby and slow. Ford will prbably fk it up, or take forever, or both. i don't have much faith in anything they are doing lately. Example, the new Edge is nice except the interior is horrendous.

I wonder if those wheels will fit on my 500....nice wheels......I wonder if some hot Volvo wheels will fit on my 500......

Edited by regfootball

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PurdueGuy    72

I think you could slap some sliding doors in place of the rears on the pictured Fairlane concept & it'd be a pretty nice (looking, anyway) minivan.

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Bimmer325    18

Lincoln getting a minivan variant rather than Mercury?

If that's not a good indication of where Ford's well-dressed twin brother is headed I don't know what is. In other words, so long Merc. It's time for Lincoln to become the badge-job king instead.

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KaliRover    0

Why not give Mercury this vehicle, yet make that emulate the R-Class from Mercedes, in terms of style and design... thus making Mercury the VW of America... and not the hand me down from Ford.

Or why not at least give Mercury the Smax and the Cmax and kill off the Mariner.

Edited by KaliRover

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ehaase    18

Is Mercury going to die?

I wouldn't be surprised, when the Panthers go out of production.

I am seeing more Lincoln Mercury dealers go out of business, with L-M's being sold by Ford dealers. I don't know if this is the case nationwide, but if more L-M dealers close, it makes it easier to justify dropping Mercury and having Ford dealers sell Lincolns.

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Drew Dowdell    5,000

I like Mercury. If I were shopping in the Milan Montego price range, they would be fairly high on my list. Probably above anything the General has to offer currently.

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regfootball    234

no, Mercury will not die. Lincoln dealers still can benefit from selling nicer Ford rebadges, giving them some extra volume and some lower priced offerings in the showroom. Example, a long time Lincoln customer may want a second car for errand hopping. Milan fits bill perfectly. I think they just don't want a Mercury van to sullify Lincolns upscale image with something 'family'. Oddly enough, I think a Monterey van would have succeeded beatifully to older baby boom empty nesters had they designed and executed it correctly.

Again, this is more about Ford royally fking things up more than anything else. They cant even succeed at keeping their head inside their ass these days.

Edited by regfootball

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mustang84    12

I don't think Mercury is going to die either. In one of the articles I read recently, Ford registered the Cougar ZN name on March 21, not to mention all the money Ford has pumped into Mercury for advertising. After the fiasco GM had with Olds, I doubt Ford would do the same with Mercury, because L-M dealers would not survive on Lincoln alone.

Merc is a little barren on product right now, but I don't see it going away in the near future.

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regfootball    234

I don't think Mercury is going to die either.  In one of the articles I read recently, Ford registered the Cougar ZN name on March 21, not to mention all the money Ford has pumped into Mercury for advertising.  After the fiasco GM had with Olds, I doubt Ford would do the same with Mercury, because L-M dealers would not survive on Lincoln alone.

Merc is a little barren on product right now, but I don't see it going away in the near future.

-ford was caught with a Euro Focus in NA.

-they are registering the Cougar ZN name?

could the Euro Focus be coming here as a

COUGAR???????

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sciguy_0504    0

The Fairlane is an awesome concept and if Ford took even 50% of the concept and put it into production, including most of the exterior and interesting interior bits, I think it would be a hit as a Ford or a Lincoln. Stands out, looks classy and elegant. With the right powertrain, handling and price, Ford could make a splash.

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regfootball    234

Not another one!  Oh wait, you weren't talking about the Ranger.  :AH-HA_wink:

ranger- another example of Ford's ability to not hit the broad side of a barn.

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