2010 Ford Taurus. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
By Chris Chase
Detroit, Michigan – With the auto industry in a shambles and venerable domestic automakers clinging to solvency by the thinnest of threads, it was easy to predict that this year’s Detroit auto show would be a low-key affair compared to past shows.
Still, there are plenty of new domestic cars on display. After all, this is Detroit: America’s Big 3 could hardly avoid it without doing some serious PR damage.
Of the three domestic automakers (GM, Chrysler and Ford), Ford is in the best financial shape; Ford’s North American CEO Alan Mulally is on record saying that Ford has enough cash and credit to get them through this economic downturn without government bailout money.
With that fact in mind, I sat down with Ford of Canada CEO David Mondragon to find out how he thinks the company’s current line-up, and future models, will help the company stay solvent in the face of the doom and gloom.
Mondragon feels the company’s designs are doing the trick. “We’ve never had a line-up like we do today,” he enthused. He cited increases – albeit incremental ones – in market share: fourth quarter share was up a full percentage point over the previous year, and Ford enjoyed a two per cent increase from the third to fourth quarters of 2008.
And he pointed out that this year, Ford will unveil seven new or redesigned vehicles in six months. A ground-up re-think of its mainstream Taurus is a major part of that product offensive.
The direct-from-Europe Transit could win Ford some sales from drivers in the contractor and delivery trades, who might appreciate the idea of a compact, fuel-efficient work vehicle.
Ford Transit Van (top); 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
Mondragon says Ford has high hopes for its 2010 Fusion mid-size sedan; the goal, he says, is to establish this car as the fuel economy pace setter in its class. That won’t be an easy job given that the Toyota Camry is a key competitor.
“We’re creating a franchise with the new Fusion,” says Mondragon, “with four powertrains (a four-cylinder gas-only powertrain, a four-cylinder gas-electric version and two V6 options) and an all-wheel drive option, all of which makes the Fusion unique in its segment.”
Ford has made much of its EcoBoost turbocharging technology of late as a means to squeeze more power and better fuel economy out of smaller-displacement engines. The first member of the Ford family to get an EcoBoost engine is the Lincoln MKS, which for 2010 gets the option of a 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 that makes 350 horsepower.
But why go with turbocharging as a power adder instead of adapting gas-electric hybrid tech? Mondragon says turbocharging is simply less expensive to implement and is easier to adapt to a variety of vehicles. “Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrids are still relatively new to the industry. It comes down to supply base and availability of components and how quickly we can get new technology to the marketplace.”
Ford’s iconic F-series pickup model line is one that’s slated to get EcoBoost engines in the near future. Despite the truck segment’s image as one of big engines and big power, Mondragon is confident that an F-150 with a turbocharged V6 engine will sell well alongside a traditional V8 engine. He says that in Texas and Oklahoma (two key markets for the F-series), about 40 per cent of F-series trucks sold are V6 models.
I also had a chance to speak very briefly with Dean Stoneley, Ford of Canada’s Vice President, Marketing, and asked him about the future of Ford’s small car lines. He said that the next generation Focus sold here will ride on the same platform as the car sold in Europe (our current Focus is a refreshed version of the car first introduced in 1999, while the European model has been completely redesigned since then).
He also has high hopes for the Fiesta subcompact, which goes on sale here next year. We have high hopes for it too, as well as for a company that seems to have a viable plan for future success.