Q: In the time since you've written recent articles (praising the Ford Five Hundred and questioning the styling and sluggish sales of General Motors cars), Ford has announced it will be redesigning the Ford Five Hundred because of poor sales, GM has had its best sales month for pickups since 1978 and the LaCrosse has greatly improved sales. Is the Camry (recently reviewed as favorable if unexciting) a dinosaur, too?
A: First, Wayne, you said Ford has announced it is "redesigning the Ford Five Hundred" because of poor sales. Well, yes and no. It is well-known that Ford has been taking it on the chin because of a growing belief that the styling of the Five Hundred is too tame. But it is redesigning only the grille to give that car a "Ford Family" look resembling what you will soon see on the new 2006 Ford Fusion.
Few companies could afford to redesign the whole car so soon after introduction. And Ford claims that after a slow start, sales of the Five Hundred have picked up nicely, and that the company points to a 20 percent increase in sales for March, compared with February.
Several of GM's new lines have caught fire because of good product reviews in buff magazines, the arrival of the spring selling season and finally getting enough stock on the lots. GM officials are especially proud sales went up even though there was no more customer money -- $1,000 -- offered on the new models in March than in February.
The big winner was Chevy's compact Cobalt, with sales 66 percent higher in March over February. Buick's LaCrosse had its best sales since introduction, with purchases up 21 percent over February. Pontiac's G6 sold 21 percent better in March than February. And full-size pickups had their best March figures since 1978.
I wouldn't call the Camry a dinosaur, but it has its issues. All cars do. Camry's big one: It isn't a strong road performer and it lacks charisma and driving excitement.
Even the V-6 Camry is underpowered compared with the Honda Accord V-6, for instance. Styling is beginning to look dated, too.