Continuing its steady sales climb, Toyota Motor Corp. squeezed past Ford Motor Co. by 43,000 vehicles in the first six months of its fiscal year to become the world’s second-biggest automaker.
Reporting its financial results for the six months ended Sept. 30, Toyota said it sold 3.170 million cars and trucks worldwide. That’s up 7.4 percent from the year-ago period.
It was no big surprise last month when Toyota finally eclipsed Chrysler as America’s third-biggest brand. In fact, the surprise was that it took so long — industry analysts have been predicting it for years. Now, Ford is still #2 domestically, but for how much longer?
Ford’s problem is, nobody wants to buy Ford cars anymore.
Henry’s kids still know how to build great trucks and SUVs. The new F-150 is selling briskly, as it ought to. It’s a damn fine truck. The new Explorer doesn’t seem to blow up nearly as much as the old one, and even the tiny Escape is getting a hybrid engine next year. So now idiots can pat themselves on the back for being green, while they tear up the greenery with their four-wheel drive.
But cars? Other than the Ford Focus, Ford hasn’t had a hit since. . . since. . . help me out here, because I really just want to make an Edsel joke. And the Focus is a CAFE-friendly model, designed to please Washington rather than to generate profits.
The Mustang is OK, especially the GT version. But does anyone other than police departments and rental companies buy the Crown Vic? And I’d almost rather drive a minivan than be seen behind the wheel of a Taurus — a model which used to be America’s bestselling, but now ranks 3rd.
The closest thing Ford has had to a popular car for grownups in recent years was the new Thunderbird. It had the looks, and the looks generated a lot of good buzz. But then people got inside the thing, and realized it was just a Lincoln LS in a prettier wrapper. And underpowered, too. Recently, Ford announced they were going to cancel the T-bird a couple years ahead of schedule.
In fact, Ford’s position is so precarious, that one of two little things could send the company into a Chrysler-style financial crisis (if not into actual bankruptcy). If Americans suddenly lose interest in SUVs, the Ford has no fallback position. While the Focus provides sales volume, it generates little (if any) profits. And low-margin fleet sales of Taurus and Crown Vic wouldn’t save Ford’s bacon, either.
And the Focus? Ford sells lots of them, that’s for sure. But a major recall would mean near-certain doom. There was just such a scare last year, but nothing much came of it. But the design is aging, so a new version can be expected in the next few years — and new models are always the biggest risk for recall actions.
What Ford desperately needs is a family sedan to compete with the new Chevy Malibu on price, the Honda Accord on reliability, and Toyota Camry in styling (if that’s not an oxymoron for Japanese family sedans).
Frankly, I don’t think it can be done.