17 March 2007

Failed Platform: DEW 98

When the Ford Motor Company introduced its new global midsize RWD platform in 1999 underneath the 2000 Lincoln LS, it was met with great fanfare by the automotive press. The LS garnered Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award and was nominated for North American Car of the Year. With such jazzy features as rear-wheel drive, a manual transmission (V6 only) and an available V8, the LS seemed like a great mix of attainable luxury and unpretentious sportiness.

How did the marketplace react? In 1999, it sold 26,368 copies. Its first full calendar year, 2000, saw sales hit 51,039. Ford had a mini-hit. How did mother-Ford nurture its nascent sedan? They starved it. It was treated to one update (in 2003) before becoming a V8-only $45,000 has-been. Anyone remember seeing an LS ad anytime between 2004 and 2006? I don’t. Sales collapsed to 19,000 by 2005 and less than 9,000 found [ostensibly] willing buyers in 2006 before the axe fell.

Soon after the LS hit the streets, Jaguar twisted the DEW architecture into the base for the retro-fabulous S-type. Its 2000 CY sales were 24,507—by far the most popular Jaguar that year. Of course, being the cheapest one in the lineup probably helped the S-type attain the sales crown. Over the years Jag tried to keep buyers engaged with a refresh or two and a supercharger, but that wasn’t enough to stave off the grim reaper: just 5,875 customers gave this cat a home in 2006. The S-type is to be taken under in 2007.

Where did Ford take this globe-trotting platform next? Well, back to the ‘50s of course. The 2002 Ford Thunderbird took the DEW98, added some ‘50s styling clich├ęs and removed all of that era’s intrinsic automotive design charm and served it up with a weak power plant and a high base price. The car sold well for about five months. Then Ford decided that it needed to upgrade it for the ’03 MY. This decision, however, came a little late in the planning process. As such, Ford had to extend the ’02 MY well into what should have been the ’03 MY. Compounding the problem was the fact that dealers were now fully stocked up on left-over, convertible, RWD cars with winter sneezing on their doorsteps. Consumers wisely stayed away. The Thunderbird never regained its momentum. Sales fell from 19,000 in 2002 to just 9,500 in 2005 when Ford once again stopped producing the ‘Bird. It was destined to be the last vehicle Ford would develop on the once promising DEW98.

What went wrong? This:

1) Lack of flexibility in design and manufacturing
2) Expensive to produce (and Ford cordially passed that expense onto its customers)
3) Starved for development funds
4) Terrible marketing for all model-lines

Had the platform been cheaper to produce and more flexible, then the Mustang could have been its savior. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be. Ford had to modify (i.e.: cheapen) the DEW98 to such an extent that it had to become a whole new platform (D2C) before the galloping horsie could have a new home in 2005.

Ford completely missed a lucrative opportunity. Rear-wheel drive is decidedly in fashion—so long that it’s affordable. Chrysler did everything right with its RWD LX platform that Ford did wrong with the DEW: It is flexible, cheap, isn’t being neglected, manufacturing is consolidated to one plant, and the vehicles built off of it were brilliantly marketed at launch and consistently advertised. GM has found success with its Sigma Cadillacs and is poised to follow suit in ’08 with its inexpensive Zeta sedans and coupes. All Ford has to offer rear-wheel-drive buyers is its 28-year-old Panther cars and a niche-market Mustang.

Imagine if the Five-Hundred came out on a DEW-derived platform with the Mustang 4.6L V8 under the bonnet and styling that wouldn’t get lost in the bread isle of your local A&P? It most certainly wouldn’t have been demoted to Taurus status.

What looked like the start of a good thing was merely a brilliant flash in the pan. How typically Ford.


Mags said...

You might as well start writing about the death of Ford in a year or two. Stuff like this was just the appetizer. Nice read.

Anonymous said...

Mags, im surprised you let Mr. Shahbaz post in your blog - he makes you look like an ass. He can write without sounding like a bad rap video.

Great points...hopefully Ford will learn from mistakes like this.

AdmiralViscen said...

Great post.

Especially for a weak-kneed gimp.

Buicktech said...

Excellent read. I miss reading well written articles like this on non-published automotive sites (and most published sites).

Atmar Shahbaz Jenkins said...

Awww, thanks buicktech. I wrote that at 3am while going through an emotional episode, so I didn't think it turned out that polished.

Stay tuned!!

Buicktech said...

The two best catalysts for talent are emotions and blow, ask Clapton.