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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

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. :p

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. :wink:

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Don't worry. We have more cars than that to build. Plus I'm not complaining. Better to build this or hit the unemployment lines.;)

DEARBORN, Mich. — Lincoln is preparing sedans that will fit into its future lineup about where the LS and the larger Town Car fit now.

The new sedans are not exactly replacements for the LS and the Town Car, as they will be entirely new vehicles with new names. Ford Motor Co. will build the cars for the Lincoln Division at its Atlanta factory, where it has built the Ford Taurus sedan.

The smaller new Lincoln sedan, which will be about the size of the Ford Five Hundred, is likely to go into production in the fourth quarter of 2007 as a 2008 model. The larger one is likely to go into production in the second quarter of 2008 as a 2009 model. Both vehicles will have standard all-wheel drive, as will most Lincolns by that point.

Forthcoming vehicles from Ford and Lincoln that will replace Ford's current minivans — probably in model-year 2008 — also are slated for production in Atlanta. The minivan replacements and the Lincoln sedans also will share a platform, Ford's P2 architecture. The P2 is the basis for the Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, which are built in Chicago.

Ford also may give its Mercury subsidiary a version of the larger Lincoln sedan. It would correspond roughly to today's Mercury Grand Marquis, a sister vehicle to the Town Car, and could go on sale in 2009 or 2010.

What this means to you: Expect Lincolns in five years to look quite different from the way they do now — and to drive differently, with the inclusion of standard all-wheel drive.
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