Source: Detroit Free Press
Ford to freshen up its Five Hundred
Automaker plans to make grille more distinctive amid criticisms
March 30, 2005
BY JEFFREY McCRACKEN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Ford Motor Co. will give its all-important Five Hundred sedan an earlier-than-usual face-lift, changing the front of the vehicle, which auto critics, car magazines and consumers have criticized for its conservative styling.
Sales of the Five Hundred have been slow out of the gate, but Ford insisted the front-end redesign had nothing to do with customer complaints, slow sales or even the excitement of the hot-selling Chrysler 300, which is much more boldly designed.
The Five Hundred, made at Ford's Chicago assembly plant, went on sale in October, and the automaker hopes the midsize sedan finally hits it monthly sales targets in March. Ford's goal is to sell at least 100,000 Five Hundred sedans a year, but monthly sales topped out at 7,524 in February.
The refreshing of the front end, which includes a redesign of the grille and new styling to give the front a more aggressive look, will hit dealerships in mid-2007. Normally, U.S. automakers wait four to five years before they do a minor redesign or give a face-lift to a vehicle, followed by a more extensive redesign that typically alters the vehicle dramatically.
"The Five Hundred is going through a mid-cycle refreshing. The reality is this process started even before the Five Hundred went on sale, so it has nothing to do with sales," said Ford spokesman Dave Reuter. "The redesign has to do with wanting consistency in the Ford showroom. We want the face of the Five Hundred to be more like the front of the Ford Fusion, which is the face of Ford."
The Fusion is a smaller sedan that goes on sale later this year. It has a more angular front end with a three-bar horizontal chrome grille, according to Ford. The Five Hundred has an open grille.
"Yes, this redesign is faster than we'd normally do it, but we think it is a good thing we are being aggressive on a refreshing," Reuter said.
Through the first five months of sales, Ford has sold 27,031 Five Hundred sedans, an annual pace of about 65,000. The automaker predicts it will sell about 9,000 of them in March.
Reuter emphasized the Five Hundred is being sold with few incentives and less than 10 percent of Five Hundred sales are to rental car fleets.
By comparison, the Chrysler 300 went on sale in March 2004 and its sales topped 106,000 in 2004. Through the first two months of the year, Chrysler has sold 22,777 of the 300.
"Ford may say it has nothing to do with the sales, but sales of the Five Hundred have been soft. It's certainly not been as bold as the Chrysler 300," said Erich Merkle, senior auto analyst for IRN Inc., a Grand Rapids auto research firm.
"Ford was too cautious, and I think after witnessing the reaction to the bold design of the 300, they have to have noticed. Ford has taken a lot of hits about the design from the car magazines across the country," said Merkle.
He added Nissan did a faster-than-usual redesign to the interior of its Altima after initial criticism and "now the interior is great."
Contact JEFFREY McCRACKEN at 313-222-8763 or [email protected].