Maybe Ford Not Selling Cars is Like Radio Shack Not Selling Radios. Oh, Wait . . ..
The Ford Motor Company hates for people to say that Ford is about to pretty much stop making cars.
I just don’t know any other way to describe a decision wherein Ford will very soon offer only one personal vehicle, the Mustang, that isn’t an SUV or a truck.
Whatever the corporate semantics, it’s disheartening. Not just because I personally like cars, but because it feels like one more step toward turning American highways into 1980s Eastern Europe, where every car looked the same and there were only three colors: white, grey or black.
To be fair, Ford had a reason for this decision. Two, actually.
One, Ford wants to make more money. Two, Ford can make more money selling SUVs and trucks than selling sedans.
So the company whose resume includes the Model T, the Thunderbird and the Mustang is becoming Trucks R Us.
In Ford’s defense, CFO Robert Shanks told financial reporters that Ford had no choice. The company is only acknowledging that auto buyers have dumped sedans and today only want to date SUVs and trucks.
So what’s a poor company to do? Gotta serve somebody. Might be the devil, might be the Lord, but it’s definitely the automobile-buying public.
It’s also possible, of course, that Ford gave the automobile-buying public some not entirely subliminal nudges toward this new infatuation.
As my former editor Richard Huff remarked one day while we were marveling at the ever-growing number of SUVs on the road, you have to admire the way auto industry marketers convinced millions of Americans they needed to be driving trucks.
Because no matter what the brochure says, that’s what an SUV is.
In fact, an SUV does have selling points. You can fit a battalion of kids and all their stuff into it. It’s better on winter roads in the North. And then there’s the fact that Americans just plain like things that are bigger. TV screens, refrigerators, guns, popcorn at the movies. You name it, we like it bigger.
I’m fine with bigger movie popcorn. I’m less enchanted with bigger vehicles, because sedans are more economical, use less fossil fuel and are more fun to drive. They maneuver better. You can see around them.
And cars have style.
Okay, they have less style than they used to. Fuel economy requirements, among other things, have forced designers and engineers to make cars more aerodynamic and functional, which is admirable except that it killed a bunch of the cool stuff. We’ve probably seen the last of unapologetic tailfins.
At one time, the cheapest ordinary cars were identifiable. You knew a Ford Pinto or Dodge Dart or Nash Rambler by sight. Even station wagons, where you threw all the kids in the back and told them to sort themselves out, had signatures.
Today, it’s easier to tell Canada Geese apart than to figure out which silver SUV at the mall is yours.
Okay, okay, I know the Sequoia isn’t the Range Rover, which isn’t the CR-V or the Caravan. I’m sure contemporary aficionados can speak with passion about the differences among SUVs, and 50 years from now they can write about the good old days of 2018, when motor vehicles had real style.
I still say the American fleet was more diverse, colorful and stylish 50 years ago — and whether or not I’m right, I suspect we can all agree that once we have the car we want, it becomes part of our persona.
Toward that end, sedans offer more options than trucks or SUVs.
From the Mini-Cooper to the Honda Accord, from the Prius to the Dodge Challenger, your basic sensible affordable sedan doesn’t have to look exactly like your neighbor’s basic sensible affordable sedan. Assuming your neighbor hasn’t already bought an SUV.
If nothing else, we seem to buy sedans in a wider range of colors than we buy SUVs.
When I had to buy a new car myself earlier this year, I steered away from the Ford Fiesta because it only came in three colors: white, grey and black.
So maybe in my own small way I helped drive Ford out of the sedan biz. But I suspect there’s also something wider in play here: a general decline in the value we put on automotive style.
The New York Times noted last week that several classic car museums had recently closed, basically for lack of patronage. I wonder if a generation of increasingly unremarkable cars, and SUVs, has made civilians see cars less as an art form than they were in the day of the Chevy Belair or the Pontiac Firebird.
I understand that most us, most of the time, drive vehicles to get somewhere, not to have a stylish experience. But clothes are functional, too, and we take style into account when we pick out what to wear.
Driving a Mustang felt good in 1966 and it feels good in 2018. Maybe Ford is thinking that won’t matter to the computers that will be driving our cars in 2030. But if those computers have good AI, they will know.