Victim of Stars

With Ford’s Taurus the latest sedan nameplate set for a date with the eternal, what does this growing convergence mean for the large blue-collar American saloon?

Kingdom of rain. 2018 Ford Taurus. Image credit: Tamiami Ford

Cadillac’s recently announced plans to remove a number of sedan model lines in response to shifting commercial realities appears not to have occurred in a vacuum. Last week it was Ford’s turn, first with reports of the Mexican-built Fiesta being phased out, but more dramatically, that executives have elected not to replace the Taurus once it reaches the end of its current model cycle.

Unlike the Fiesta, which was perhaps a short-term plug to an economic fissure, the Taurus occupies Ford’s former heartland, being the largest sedan the Blue Oval currently makes and the last expressly designed for the domestic market. Yet while the age of dinosaurs is long gone, a faint trace of the Jurassic clings to the Taurus. But it wasn’t always thus.

Sunnier times. 1986 Ford Taurus. Image credit: Hemmings

The current model debuted in 2010, but the nameplate has been with us since 1986, when the car that turned around Ford’s commercial fortunes made its debut. The Taurus was a landmark car, providing arguably the first credible route out of the so-called malaise-era. The ‘shape of tomorrow’ proved an immediate success with close to 3.5 million sold over the initial two generations.

The mid-’90s saw Taurus getting the Scorpio treatment with a visually questionable aesthetic refashioning, but despite customer ambivalence, it was business as (un?)usual for America’s best-selling sedan. In 2000 Ford shifted over 380,000 of them, but under CEO Jac Nasser, Ford’s US operations appeared to lose its way, and this loss of focus saw Taurus lose its constituency, with both car and nameplate axed entirely in 2006.

It came from planet ovoid. Mid-90s Taurus. Image credit: IIHS

Following the appointment of Alan Mullally the same year, this decision was summarily reversed, but leaving even a perceived gap in the market is  tantamount to losing it entirely, and with buyers already beginning a drift away from sedans, not to mention suggestions of lack of support within Dearborn, the public began to lose interest. Sales never recovered.

The current model was introduced in 2010, utilising the D3 front-drive platform, believed to have been developed for the Volvo S80. Now approaching its twilight years and with fortunes dwindling, the sands of time are running thin.

2018 Taurus. Image credit: brighton Ford

In a curious parallel with that of Cadillac’s XTS, the Taurus appears to be a model lacking a USP, and similarly, there seems more than a hint of product overlap. Because while the Taurus offers a lot of car for the money, what it doesn’t provide is much in the way of usable space, given its overall size.

A perception which becomes sharper once one considers what the lower-priced Fusion offers. This model, based on the Ford CD4 platform and twinned with the European Mondeo, has been on sale since 2014. Interestingly, it too has been subject to speculation over its potential longevity.

Comparing both, the lack of meaningful dimensional disparity becomes strikingly apparent. While 10.2 inches separate both cars in overall length, the really telling parameters are that of wheelbase and width, where in each case 0.7 of an inch is all the additional space one gets for the extra outlay. On the subject of vulgar money, $22,215 (list) gets you into a Fusion, while the Taurus opens the bidding at $27,690 – probably as near as makes no difference with negotiation.

As expected, the Fusion offers a wide range of engines from a baseline 2.5 litre Duratec, 1.5 or 2.0 litre EcoBoost turbocharged fours, a 2.7 litre EcoBoost V6 or a 2.0 litre Duratec four with hybrid drivetrain. The Taurus, on the other hand, doesn’t. Only two engines choices are available, the 2.0 litre EcoBoost turbo or a 3.5 litre EcoBoost V6.

All of which adds up to a car which has been on sale 8 years, was last meaningfully updated in 2013, feels cramped inside, lacks engine choice, and is perceived as dated against key rivals. A car Motor Trend relegated to last place in a five car test, saying, “the Taurus needs more than a refresh to compete in this segment.” A car that has fallen prey to a durable perception of being strictly rental or fleet fodder, – poison in image terms.

A poor or undefined image seems to be a symptom of the Taurus’ latterday decline, that and the steady encroachment of the Fusion into its segment. Clearly, it’s folly to have two car lines fighting over the same shrinking section of the market, but with a little more clear water between them, would the Taurus have retained more appeal?

In 2015, a Taurus badged, but Fusion-based saloon debuted in China. With a longer wheelbase than either US car, and a distinct three-volume body style, it presented a calmer and arguably more attractive silhouette to its fastback counterpart. A Chino-American Skoda Superb (which may or may not be a good thing), but it didn’t happen and it’s probably too late now.

The US large mainstream sedan market lost 11.5% in volume terms last year, according to data compiled by carsalesbase. The 392,129 cars sold roughly equates to what Ford was managing with the Taurus alone at the time of the millennium. Taurus sales for 2017 amounted to 41,236, down 6% on the previous year, ahead of the soon to be replaced Toyota Avalon and twice that of the underperforming Buick Lacrosse.

Frankly, the situation isn’t a whole lot better in the sector below; indeed if anything, the reversals appear larger; the sector hemorrhaging 17.9% of its total volume last year, fuelling the hand-wringing in Dearborn over the Fusion, and by default, the Euro-Mondeo it fathers. With US sales of 209,623 in 2017, the mid-sized Ford retained 4th spot, but lost 21% over the previous year.

Ford Mondeo nee. Fusion. Image: fordautoreviews

In Europe, Merkenich would kill for volumes like that; the Mondeo chalking up sales of 56,173, again down 21% over 2016 and like its US equivalent, maintaining 4th place in the standings. Nevertheless, of the major players within the European D-sector, Ford posted the biggest decline and is likely to come under increasing threat as rivals renew their offerings.

With the Blue Oval entering a period of soul-searching over whether to pursue the fading US sedan segment at all, or simply rationalise its offering, GM’s Chevrolet satellite is also weighing its options, with the Impala believed to be under threat. As the US big-hitters seem increasingly apt to jettison saloon model lines, could we be witnessing the beginning of what financial analysts might describe as a ‘run’?

‘I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly’. Putting the ‘boot’ into Bootilicious? Image credit: les stumpf Ford

The vital signs for the large American three-volume sedan are not good, perhaps because it offers too rigid a formula to the US customer, one which now feels rooted firmly in the past. But while it seems a mass extinction at Taurus level is imminent, what has the sedan to do to survive? Because regardless of what is occurring now, one could question the wisdom of abandoning the sector entirely.

Does the answer to all questions come in SUV form? Surely it’s not difficult to envisage a well designed, practical, durable, mechanically rugged and more versatile evolution of sedan commanding a viable market across wide swathes of North America. Because if the domestic carmakers don’t make one, someone else just might.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Victim of Stars”

  1. While GM and Ford consider abandoning the saloon, Mercedes, BMW and Audi are probably not. That they sell a healthy number of four-door cars indicates people do want sedans – just not the ones offered by the formerly mainstream makers. What can be done to improve the chances for the mainstream saloon in the US? Great minds must surely be pondering that question with intense fury.

  2. The D3 platform underpinning the Taurus is actually an evolution of Volvo’s P2 architecture. This dates back as far as the 1998 S80, but no doubt is changed beyond recognition in these cars.

    1. Buick´s Lacrosse ought to do better: In 2016 Motor Trend wrote “Not everyone wants to drive (or can afford) a Lexus ES. When you want something semi-premium and spacious, consider the new LaCrosse. Its interior quality is good for a $30,000-$45,000 car, but its performance isn’t sporty in a way that will cause surprised test drivers to say “That’s a Buick?” Still, the interior and exterior design are unmistakable. And it’s quiet. What’s that worth to you?”
      Evidently, not very much despite the fact GM offered two different versions, one for those who want a plush ride and one for people who wanted more performance and handling. The photos show a very handsome car. It´s not that it´s terrible so much as customer think they want a CUV instead. Hatchbacks are ruling the roost in many ways.

  3. When we visited the USA in 2015 I got a rental Taurus almost identical to that top photo. We drove it from Nashville to Louisville, taking in a factory tour at GM Bowling Green along the way. It was not an impressive car to drive. It felt big, cumbersome, lethargic, and heavy. Nice interior though, packed with everything that opens and shuts. I also discovered that when you visit an American car factory, arriving in an American car means you can park a lot closer to the front door.

    1. I was going to say that giving priority to owners of US-made cars was fair enough. But really a seller should treat all customers with equal courtesy. Why would you want to make a potential customer feel bad?

  4. This class of car has been shrinking for awhile now. The Impala was totally new for 2013 (and its an excellent car) but still, the smaller Malibu outsold it. The Taurus sells heavy to fleets (and there’s a police version) , but it has serious flaws. The Taurus is an especially long and tall car, but it’s interior space is mediocre at best. Hyundai stopped selling it’s Cadenza, and the Toyota Avalon is also a fleet-heavy livery special. The FCA LX cars are the only sedan models they make, and they’re on a very old chassis, so it doesn’t matter.

    Also, although the Taurus is a “Large” car; it’s space in the market was usurped by the Fusion. The Taurus was always mid-sized (D-segment), with the Crown Victoria taking over the E-segment (full sized). The Crown Victoria went on for far too long (body-on-frame, super popular with livery drivers) and the Fusion effectively replaced the 2006 Ford Taurus. Ford introduced the tepid Five Hundred to slot above the Fusion, but both the Five Hundred and Freestyle flopped. Then, to bring back some semblance of brand recognition, the Five Hundred and Freestyle got facelifts (and dropped that awful CVT auto and under powered 3.0 V6) and became the Taurus and Taurus X. There was even a new Mercury Sable that existed before Mercury’s death.

    Really, the Fusion should have the Taurus moniker.

  5. Despite some questionable details I think the mid 90’s Taurus is a bit of an iconic design. It had fabulous bone structure altough the front looks kind of cartoon-like, its grille looking like the template for the vehicles’s mouths in Disney/Pixar’s CARS franchise. I’ve also just realised how some details appear very Mazda-like , was this around the time both brands were tied up ? The A-pillars, doors, wing mirror and handles somehow remind me of a Mazda 6, 626 or some Xedos.

  6. The decline of the American sedan is a great shame.

    The unstoppable rise of the SUV is destroying everything in its path.

    1. Presumably customers/drivers think differently. Seemingly the diversity of the low car format is not interesting anymore: four-door saloon, two-door saloon, coupe, fastback and estate are all to be replaced by a form of tall five door hatchback. In some ways it will turn into a problem for manufacturers. How can you differentiate the five-door hatch in the way the standard car could be differentiated? Potentially the new general range of cars is a selection of hatchbacks with maybe a core-saloon product somewhere in there. The MPV is also at risk of being outcompeted by the SUV/CUV.

    2. I think MPVs have gone beyond risky territory, they’re being phased out already with the rise of the CUV/SUV. The Espace turning Crossover, the death and no replacement fot the Peugeot/Citroen/Fiat/Lancia quatuor, the demise of the Opel Sentra (ok, no one noticed that one probably). The rise of the sophisticated and practical van-based, leisure-orientated vehicles might have had a hand in this too, cars like the passengers versions of VW’s T6, Traffics, Kangoos, Space Tourers, etc….

  7. There is very little reason to buy any of these cars; no cachet, no space, no swagger. Poor predicted residuals damn them before they leave the factory. The answer seems obvious to me: bring back the American Ford Falcon. No red blooded male wants to buy a CUV. A coupaloon based on the Mustang, with a rough-tough blue collar joe image, low volumes and a healthy margin, would do much to rebuild faith in the big car genre.

  8. An interesting take on a particular car and product segment from one living far away from its locale.

    The only Tauruses seen regularly around here are police cars. Into which cops in full regalia and winter parkas struggle to enter due to its tight interior and awkward door openings. They long for the older Crown Victoria. The Taurus’ centre console is also ridiculously wide and confining.

    The chassis underneath the Taurus is the same as the Ford Explorer crossover, the other police car commonly seen, one somewhat more suited to jumping curbs to nab perps when the individual is acting out TV cop fantasies.

    The current numb Taurus was a rename/remake of the extremely spacious but dorky-looking Ford 500, and no mechanical relation to the successful Taurus of yore. Not even close. It was a shallow marketing ploy/poor ergonomics flashy redesign of the upright 500 to possibly fool some unobservant souls, who might have had fond memories of the original Taurus, into plonking down money on the new one. Since it was typically far more expensive and of hulking bulk with cramped accomodation, such an attempt to cash in on fading memories fooled no one. The 2010 and subsequent Taurus has been a sales dud. Should we blame Mullaly? Why not? It all came about on his watch.

    It has the choice of two engines just like about every car/truck on sale here. Adequate and quick. The Euro approach of 5 engines 200cc apart is not followed here, an approach it seems clear merely drives up manufacturing cost for scarcely no difference to the driver’s perception of performance or actual fuel economy. Or to be charitable in some cases, vibration characteristic between two, three or four cylinders. Or maybe it’s caused by Euro government taxation schemes, since it seems counter intuitive to logic to hold spares for myriad configurations, let alone plan and provide for their manufacture in such relatively small volumes.

    So private individuals here rarely buy this Taurus beast new, and it was dunned by all reviewers since its 2010 appearance due to the cramped interior and Volvo S80 dynamics. It’s regarded as Police and rental car fodder, so the “blue collar” designation is a complete howler. Blue collar is pickup truck almost exclusively.

    The 2012 Fusion (and before it the Mazda6 derived first Fusion) 9is the successor to the original Taurus in size and price. When it arrived as the Mondeo in 2014, that distinguished luminary Jeremy Clarkson noted on the basis of his magnificent mind that the Mondeo’s instrument panel was a rework of the Fusion’s to a far higher standard than the grotty Fusion. Then proceeded to show a photo of the identical layout to what we have here with steering wheel swapped sides. Having read DTW for some time now, I can understand where this kind of viewpoint originates. About 1985. Not that Americans are any more up-to-date in their views of exclusively European cars or driving habits, as I’ve noted before.

    “it’s not difficult to envisage a well designed, practical, durable, mechanically rugged and more versatile evolution of (my edit -“huge”) sedan commanding a viable market across wide swathes of North America”

    Not difficult to envisage, merely completely unrealistic. The Buick Lucerne/Chev Impala/Cadillac XTS trio are mechanically identical, and don’t sell in any real quantity. The featured Taurus was a dinosaur from the outset. FCA sells various versions of its big Chrysler 300/Dodges in RWD and AWD, if you can find a dealer that actually stocks them. No, this size sedan is toast in North America. Kia tries to sell a few dozen Cadenzas and K900s, and Hyundai’s big cars are equally unknown. There is no mass market left for this bygone era size – the crossover has spoken as a more useful tool to pack in families and their gear, without getting a rick in the back putting children in child’s seats. A rear hatch instead of tiny boot opening is another advantage, while ground clearance merely returns to the long term average. A 1960’s Mustang of the Bullitt variety has about 7 inches of such.

    This change to crossovers was led by women who like to perch up high to see out. My relatives and friends prove this market shift beyond all shadow of doubt. Minivans are shunned as being too boxy and unfashionable. The regular station wagon is shunned because it’s too low and reminiscent of decades past. I remain a lonely advocate of decent cars among my peers, and all that’s left is FGCs that cost too much, and the underpowered Mazda6, maybe the humpbacked new Accord if I could stand to gaze upon its misshapen silhouette.

    The Fusion has been handily beaten by Camry, Accord and Altima in its sales segment, and the Malibu (which the Opel Insignia is a later clone of) isn’t in the game either. Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima together add up to more than Fusion sales. I’d say Fusion’s toast as well following a year or two of fleet/rental specials knocked out in Mexico, then joining the Taurus in the great car junkyard in the sky, or as a China-only model.

    For the styling mavens here the full arrival of the two box hatchback on stilts is a complete annoyance. At least the the saloon had room for aesthetic design. Two cardboard boxes stuck to one another gives little scope for elegance, as Toyota has managed to show with rubbish like the new Ucks. But the change is unstoppable. Even those that proclaim red-blooded men wouldn’t buy a crossover are living in denial of reality. Residuals for saloons are cratering, so people who buy actual cars can expect a depreciation hit, and many men will buy crossovers to avoid losses.

    And as I said above, in North America and Australia, blue collar means pickup trucks, which Europeans do not understand at all. Yet.

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