If you’ve got a good thing, stick with it, they say. “They” were apparently not working in Dearborn, Michigan, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Ford Motor Company decided it would abandon some of the best-known car names in an effort to streamline its cars with “F” names.
If any idea ever deserved an F, it was this one.
The first to go was Escort, which was dropped in favor of the Ford Focus. Admittedly, the Escort had long been a bargain-bin compact car that appealed more for its low price than for any redeeming qualities. Ford marketed the Focus as a European-style compact car, which was reasonably accurate since most of its development was actually done in Germany by Ford of Europe. Except, the Focus almost wasn’t a Focus in Germany, where German magazine Focus brought suit against Ford. The automaker won, and the Focus name lives today — except in the U.S., where the car was dropped from the lineup in 2018.
The Focus was a hit globally and it inspired Ford to say “F it” to its longstanding Taurus name. The original Ford Taurus was groundbreaking when it hit the market in the mid-1980s with a streamlined design that instantly made any other car at its price point look positively old fashioned. Twenty years later, the Taurus had lost its mojo — and had become synonymous with “rental car.” Rather than a reboot, Ford looked to its past and chose to rechristen the car 2005 Ford Five Hundred, as in the spelled-out version of 500 it used to denote high-end trim levels in the 1950s. The new Ford Five Hundred was a big sedan that Ford suggested would blur the line between sedans falling out of favor with consumers and increasingly popular SUVs thanks to its unusually high seating position.
Capitalizing on the Five Hundred’s SUV-ish stature, Ford unveiled a wagon-ish crossover called the Ford Freestyle. Shaped kind of like a Subaru Outback that spent too much time on a bicycle pump, the Freestyle was a really good idea that wasn’t executed very well. An underwhelming V6 engine paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that would prove unreliable hardly helped, either.
In the middle of all this, Ford quietly reworked its Windstar minivan and rebadged it the Ford Freestar. Mercury, of course, got its own version called Monterey. Spot a Mercury Monterey on the road and you’ll win automotive bingo. It was not a sales hit.
A year later, the 2006 Ford Fusion was unveiled as a new midsize sedan that slotted nicely between the compact Focus and the gargantuan Five Hundred. The Fusion was actually a Mazda6 underneath. Ironically, it was built in Mexico rather than in Michigan alongside the Mazda. Of course, Mercury got its own version called the Milan — because nothing says Italian design like a rebadged Ford riding on a Mazda platform that was built in Mexico.
In 2006, Ford and Mercury dealers had a pleasantly streamlined range of cars with F, E, and M names. Ford sold the Focus, the Fusion, the Five Hundred, the Freestyle, the Freestar, and, err, the Mustang. Its SUV lineup consisted of the Escape, the Explorer, the Expedition and the Excursion. Venture over to the Mercury dealer and things were even more consistent: Milan, Montego, Monterey, Mariner, Mountaineer and (Grand) Marquis.
This straight flush went down the tubes quickly, however. Ford teetered on bankruptcy in late 2005. Its corporate bonds were downgraded to junk status, and the company scrambled to cut costs, models and jobs. The company raised nearly $24 billion, but it leveraged arguably its biggest asset: the iconic blue oval was offered up as collateral. Ford’s board hired Alan Mullaly from Boeing as its CEO, and one of his first moves was to restore the Taurus name.
Within a couple of years, the Five Hundred became the Taurus, the Freestyle became the Taurus X, and the Freestar bit the dust, while Mercury closed its doors entirely in 2011.
Nearly a decade later, Ford has decided it’s done with sedans in the U.S. The Focus and the revived Taurus are out of production for American buyers, while the Fusion soldiers into 2020 for what’s expected to be its last year as a 4-door. Find a Ford for sale or Find a Mercury for sale