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This article has expected sales numbers for the Fusion, and also hints at a wagon version.

Ford Taurus latest death in the family

By Amy Wilson

August 14, 2004

DETROIT – Ford Division is replacing its best-selling car, the Taurus, with four vehicles that will sell in much smaller volumes.

The Taurus, an industry icon that sold 401,049 units in 1996, will be retired, possibly as early as next year, say supplier and industry sources.

The Taurus will follow various high-volume domestic cars to the graveyard. They are victims of proliferating nameplates from Japan and Korea, and declining car sales in the United States as light trucks overtook them.

Meanwhile, new assembly equipment helps Ford and other automakers juggle smaller runs of more models in the same factory.

The new Ford Five Hundred, due this fall, is one of four vehicles that will replace the Taurus and cover the mid-size segment of the car market, suppliers say. The others are the 2005 Ford Freestyle sport wagon, the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan and an unnamed sport wagon derived from the Fusion for the 2007 model year.

While Ford expects the Fusion to top 200,000 units a year, none of the nameplates will come close to the 400,000-plus units Taurus moved at its peak.

The Taurus remains a high-volume car, largely because about 60 percent are sold to profit-eroding fleets. Last year, Ford sold 300,496 Tauruses in the United States, down 9.7 percent from 2002.

With the launch of the Five Hundred and Freestyle at its Chicago assembly plant, Ford is finally adding flexible manufacturing equipment to its car plants.

Flexible equipment with computerized controls allows companies to build distinct models on the same assembly line, enabling manufacturers to provide more choices to consumers.

Ford is planning about 125,000 units each for the Five Hundred and Freestyle.

Chicago also makes the Mercury Montego sedan, a sister to the Five Hundred. It eventually will produce a Mercury version of the Freestyle.

Ten years ago, by contrast, the company kept its plants in Chicago and Atlanta busy by producing 428,718 Tauruses and 137,262 Mercury Sables.

From 1993 to 2003, Ford Division's U.S. car sales slid from 1.29 million units to 792,313.

Nearly 20 years after a stellar debut, the Taurus has become a rental-car cliche. The roughly 60 percent of Tauruses now sold to rental and corporate fleets is well above the 20 percent or so that is ideal, says analyst Doug Scott of NOP World Automotive in Southfield, Mich.

The huge supply of used Tauruses has torpedoed the car's residual value. Taurus residuals after 36 months have plunged from 46 percent of sticker price for 1996 models to 27 percent for 2004 models, according to Automotive Lease Guide, which tracks values of used vehicles.

The car typically has carried a $3,000 cash rebate in recent years, although the current incentive for 2005 models is $1,000.

The industry's retreat from high-volume car nameplates has exceptions.

The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are perennial top-selling vehicles. Toyota sold 413,296 Camrys in 2003, and Honda sold 397,750 Accords in 2003 in the United States.
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