Since Ford Motor Company announced in its Q1 earnings report that it would do away with nearly every single traditional car model in North America, leaving only the fan-favorite Mustang and the crossover-inspired Focus Active, just about every publication under the sun has had an opinion to air. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Dan Neil expressed concern that American buyers were being corralled into crossovers and SUVs in order to help give Ford a break with regard to meeting tightening fuel-economy requirements. Tom Appel, writing for The Daily Drive blog at ConsumerGuide, suggested Ford’s retreat from traditional car markets doesn’t matter, as Japanese automakers will swoop in to take up any lingering market share.
Meanwhile, two Automotive News writers – Michael Martinez and Richard Truett – wrote completely opposing opinions on “The Great Cull” (as we’re now calling it). Martinez called it “the right move,” citing Ford’s claim that it’s been losing money on “traditional sedans” while they take up valuable production capacity. Truett called it a “mistake,” saying that Ford is axing necessary products in segments that will never entirely go away.
In truth, the North American automotive market is a complex, intricate thing; opinions run the gamut from “absolutely for” to “absolutely against” precisely because no one person truly knows how Ford’s decision will turn out. Shortly after Ford made the announcement, an article from The Detroit News proclaimed that this summer would be the most expensive driving season in years due to higher gas prices. High gas prices have, historically, been a major driver of small vehicle sales, and while many pundits will tell you that Ford’s contemporary crossover models are every bit as fuel-efficient as their sedan counterparts, do consumers know that? Or more importantly, do they believe it?
Many dealers, meanwhile, are concerned that with fewer small, inexpensive models on offer, Ford won’t have the sort of “entry-level” products that can turn first-time buyers into lifelong customers. The company’s President of Global Markets, Jim Farley, assured The Detroit News last month that “affordability is… a part of our brand promise.”
“The price point that’s affordable to most Americans is still important. Our ambition is to grow [our lineup] and hit all the price points. The only thing that’s changing is how they’re going to look.”
We could go down the list, highlighting every single point and counterpoint until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately, our feelings are this: Ford’s decision to cut down nearly its entire North American car lineup is sudden and drastic, and that gives us pause. The Taurus had to go; its glory days are well behind it. As much as we enjoy the Fiesta, that car, too, sold too slowly in North America to justify its continuation. Plus, if we had to hazard a guess, we’d say the margins are likely none too high on a $14k subcompact car.
The problem is that Ford didn’t stop there; the company also axed the mid-size Fusion, and most of the Focus range, deciding that of the next-generation model range, only the crossover-like Focus Active would make an appearance. Crossovers and SUVs are claiming more and more market share, it’s true, but plenty of buyers will always prefer cars, and when the North American market finally reaches equilibrium, Ford might be shocked to find sedans nowhere near extinct.
Imagine if the Fiesta’s 46,249 US buyers in 2017 could be corralled into Focuses, or if the Taurus’ 33,242 buyers could have been sold Fusions (a car that sold 209,623 units across the US in 2017, by the way; not exactly peanuts). Better still, imagine if – as Automotive News‘ Richard Truett suggested – Ford had found another automaker to partner up with on one or more of its car models, sharing a platform, a production plant, and perhaps some amount of mechanical content. We hear several of GM’s car models could be on the chopping block. That company could have made for a sensible partner.
Instead, Ford has committed to a grand, sweeping round of model eliminations that will leave it with an aspirational two-door coupe, and a car that splits the difference between sedan and crossover, with promises that it will explore further opportunities to introduce additional “lite” car utility vehicles in North America. Whether the impending tidal wave of new Ford crossovers and SUVs produces a few duds or not, we find it likely that Ford is about to lose a few customers.