What was Ford’s biggest missed opportunity?
A while back we posed a question regarding GM’s biggest missed opportunity. We asked, and you answered with some duesies from the Detroit-based automaker, formerly the largest in the world. Now it’s time to turn our gaze to the neighboring city of Dearborn and ask the same question:
What was Ford’s biggest missed opportunity?
I shall throw my hat into the ring with the Ford Carrousel prototype. (Yes, it is spelled with two Rs.) This design study was intended to be a minivan that fit in a garage. Lee Iacocca was apparently down to put this smaller people-mover into production, but it never came to fruition—likely, thanks to his not-so-secret problems with Henry Ford II.
When the deed was done and Hank the Deuce got his way, Iacocca took the downsized Ford Econoline and made the same thing on Chrysler’s K platform. He did great work at his next gig, don’t you think?
But it coulda been Ford’s success, had the Blue Oval looked 10 years ahead. Imagine the new-for-1980 global Ford Escort chassis—a respectable, compact mode of transport of the era. Take its fully independent suspension and space-efficient design, and turn the whole thing into a minivan. The suspension alone was better than what underpinned the K-car!
And considering the Escort was already spawning the larger Ford Tempo, why couldn’t Ford have make a suburban (lower case “S”) carryall—like a compact wagon, but better?
Sure, it made the Ford Aerostar, and that van’s Ranger-derived platform was quite good for the job. But the Aerostar still didn’t ride and handle like a low slung, car-based Dodge Caravan, which was precisely what the market wanted.
If only Ford didn’t wait a full eleven years after the Caravan/Voyager’s introduction to come up with a proper competitor.
So that’s my take on the question at hand. But now we must hear from you: What was Ford’s biggest missed opportunity?
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Considering how many Corvettes there are in the world, and how many things center around that brand (clubs, parts, collections, sales, etc.), it seems to me that Ford missed its opportunity when it turned the Thunderbird into a personal luxury car. Starting as a 2-seat American sports car to compete with the plastic Chevy, the T-Bird of the mid-’50s has shown that it could be every bit as attractive and fun as early Corvettes, but FoMoCo abandoned the idea too quickly. When I think of where it could have gone (think Ford GT, for instance), it just seems to me that continuing to put Thunderbirds up against Corvettes might have given Ford a sports car following that rivals Chevy’s entry.
I think the real miss there was not developing the GT40 for the consumer market. That would have been Ford’s Corvette
The T-Bird is an interesting animal. On one hand, it was a two-door, two-seat sports car to begin its life, and it should arguably have stayed that way. Imagine what it might have become over the generations. However, one wonders if the market truly hard room for both the Thunderbird and Corvette.
On the other hand, one could argue that Ford took the proper approach and make the T-Bird into the car that more people wanted. Sales figures certainly leaped ahead after the it morphed into the car that no one really wanted yet many more people really wanted.
In my mind, the first-gen Thunderbird was great, and after that, it took a long time to be great again. We had a turbo coupe in the ’80s, and although it wasn’t at all like Gen1, it was a pretty great car in its segment.
My Carrousel design proposal was selected and approved for development in 1972. I was a designer with Ford Design assigned to the Light Truck and Tractor Design Studio. My proposal and another by Ford designer Jim Grey was done as a full-size “Squire” clay model. I got the passenger side and rear, Jim Grey got the front and drivers side. After several design clinic reviews. my proposal was selected, and I was asked to design a new front for the drivable prototype supervised by Project Engineer George Peterson. The Carrousel (2 r’s) was not a “Minivan”, It was a “Garageable Family Van” based on the all-new body-on-frame 1975 “Nantucket”…
Thanks for your comments – it is always best to hear insider information.
Love the two replies posted already.
-I agree that T-bird has been several different things entirely, and if properly developed several of them probably could have lasted decades. I’d love to see a modern SuperCoupe personal luxury effort.
-Henry Ford played hardball with the Robertson screw inventor, resulting in an inferior option (phillips) becoming a standard. We continue to pay the price for this today (every time I have to deal with a rusty screw on my Mustang…)
-Ford giving up on North America getting the Focus. I have a decades-long bias against little cars ingrained by my upbringing. I test drove a 2019 Focus amongst other things and had to eat crow. It was a great car and I seriously considered buying it, and the RS version is still tempting (just not at the price point they seem to demand still).
-related to the above… not making the next gen Mustang available with all wheel drive –ticking this box let’s me justify one as my all season driver. Ford is generally late to the AWD party and/or you can’t actually find the things they say are offered in AWD.
-Ford Flex… one of the most neglected sales success stories ever. They are good and people loved them. But it seemed like Ford didn’t even want to admit they offered them.
-The Premier Auto Group… they divest the brands and my understanding is they have all been profitable in the new owner’s various hands. “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
I had a 91 5.0 Mustang with aftermarket air bags in the rear coils. Every winter I would measure the bumper height, load the back with 3 to 4 semi flywheels, then pump the bags up until the bumper was back to height. I rode all winter like that unless the snow got higher than the front bumper
Screwing up the first gen SHO. First you allowed automatics, then you got ugly..
With how new cars are getting lighter and the population older (ie, we don’t like to crawl DOWN into these stupid little roller skate cars with our bad knees and backs), and with the common love of Model A’s, Ford is missing a sales opportunity by not making a new Model A look-alike, with a 3-cylinder engine / plug-in hybrid. Sure these old body styles are not streamlined, and not as safe as many cars to day, but with a little head scratching I think they could make it safer and give us old coots one more chance to enjoy nostalgia (with updated tech) before cars are phased out and we all are forced to live sterile boring lives in high rises.
Ummm, well why not just buy a Model A then? They still exist, and I see them for sale all the time.
Agreed 100%. They all should go both ways. I like my AWD in winter but a little wagon set up to run with low hp and be a gas sipper. I don’t know how they think? A lot of people don’t want a computer screen or pull a 40’ trailer. Some just to want to get 50+ mpg. My Escort wagon 5 speed manual could get 34 mpg with a radio and a/c. Keep it simple stupid. Not everyone is feeling e cars are the answer.
Ford has a weird thing of taking a successful product then killing it only to bring it back. The Ford Ranger should have never stopped production. Ford should have made the third generation Ranger with 4 doors. The market seems to respond to a non-fullsize 4 door truck. The Ford Taurus which saved Ford was discontinued then brought back now discontinued. Ford should have built a better performance model of the popular Fusion. A six speed turbocharged sport suspension Fusion would have attracted those who didn’t want to pay BMW pricing but wanted a performance midsize sedan.
BTW: Sajeev thank you for showing us your collection last Saturday to the Lemons Rally guys. That was a treat. The Hearse Guy
Michael, it was a pleasure meeting you (re-meeting you, actually!) and having you at the Lemons rally point! I am glad you had a good time.
Perhaps not a missed opportunity yet…
I’m sure this is way too complicated but a guy can dream. With the advent of full on production EVs and 3D modeling, I’d love to see a (EV) platform from Ford that a third party company could then add one of a catalog of vintage designs. I think the ‘36 Coupe/convertible is the height of perfection and I’d love to see them tooling around our neighborhoods again. Or a t-bird/ fastback mustang etc.
Lee Iacocca as CEO.
I agree with the Old Coot about diving into low slung vehicles. I’ve owned some nice Mustangs, but found that the older I get the harder it is to maneuver entry and exit.
My solution was the Dodge Challenger. Good looking, easy access, 2 door and extremely comfortable!
Ford really blew it when they kept the Explorer also known as Exploder instead of keeping the Excursion with just using Diesel motors in the, just look on ebay to see what the internet thinks. My 2004 Excursion with the 6.0 Diesel has 282,000 miles on and still gets almost 20 mpg at 80 mph, it still has all front end part ujoints and rear end parts as originally installed at the factory.
Ford’s biggest missed opportunity is the current F-150’s and Superdutys. Ram is catching up to Ford’s trucks (if you believe Consumers Report’s testing). The switch to weight reduction with aluminum bodies was a great move, but there is a big gorilla in the garage that no one is talking about. I am referring to cab and box removal required for serious (gas and Diesel) engine service.
Remain a leader, and take the bold step of designing a tilt front end to ease engine service. All service mechanics and fleet managers will thank you, Ford!
It is not rocket science – they did it with the immensely successful C-Series – why not now with their light duty trucks (and some SUVs)? Will GM or Ram beat Ford to it?
That’s an excellent idea!
I believe the largest of Ford missed opportunity was not using there Europe/ UK division’s to design and assist with the development of the small / efficient cars and engines that the North American market required in the 70’s. The Pinto and others just didn’t achieve there goals and let the Japanese’s makers in the market and established as a market leader of that segment.
Ford of all the BIG 3 had the global work force and talent to create something special, if they did maybe there would be a small Ford on the road in place of the Corolla!
Their next opportunity will be electric vehicles, They could have kept building gasoline engines, and within the next 5 years, all those electric cars are going to be sitting in a line at the charging stations, waiting for their chance to spend 30 minutes to get enough charge to get home for supper. You thought those gas shortages in the 1970’s were bad.
California is having rolling blackouts already with no air conditioning allowed on random days. and Texas had a shortage of electric power for weeks. Just wait until the environmental kooks won’t let them build electric generating plants. They all want to be like Sweden, but don’t know that they generate half of their electric power with nuclear plants. And China controls most of the chemicals used to build the batteries. They own the mines in Africa that supply the battery supplies, and they are mined by slaves and children.
All true! In military terms, amateurs think in terms of strategy (Let’s go electric!) Professionals think in terms of logistics (How will we make that work?)
Logistics will be the death of EVs.
Most people charge at night, when electricity usage is at its lowest.
Most people being those lucky enough to park in their own garage? An electrified future will also include regular folks who park their cars in the parking lot of their apartment complex (or for our city dwellers, on the street in front of their two flat).
Many electric supporters are either clueless to the realities of life for average folks, or maybe just ignore it to advance their agenda.
I think the demise of the Fusion, Focus and Fiesta in the US market will be a decision that they will regret. And will Ford please stop teasing us with that ActiveX Fusion based Station Wagon (there, I said it, the unmentionable word, Station Wagon). I’m a lifetime Ford guy. I wanted an all wheel drive wagon (not an SUV) and they forced me to schlep over to Buick for a TourX (a lovely car that, par for the course, GM killed as soon as I bought one! Suddenly basic repair parts were on backorder for months) and then over to Subaru for an Outback (which has the worst ergonomics and is a rolling driver distraction to operate. (Seriously, three screens to turn on the heated seats? Then the “eyesight” feature gripes because you took your eyes off the road?) We named ours Nanny.
I still love my Mustang…but no more stick shift with that lovely turbo motor 🙁
Discontinueing the ranchero
The article credits Lee Iacocca with the idea for the first minivan, but Iacocca in his autobiography credits Hal Sperlich with the idea for the first minivan. (Sperlich is also the product planner who had the idea for the first Mustang, which Iacocca is also better known for. The duo failed to convince FORD to build the minivan, but when Iacocca became Chrysler CEO, he took Sperlich with him and they revived the idea there.