As the first 2010 Taurus models enter dealerships this month, Ford's traveling street team of executives and marketers are visiting cities across America with brochures and new cars for passersby to sit in, touch, and start up.
Sure, they twittered and facebooked a group of select Boston bloggers into their cars the night before, but Wednesday's event outside the Government Center T stop - a pair of white Taurus sedans and a few vinyl signs - was decidedly low-key.
Perhaps Ford thought GM's torture campaign a few years back, which convinced Boston University students they might win a Chevy Aveo by living in it for five days, was a bad idea. Or that mounting giant Red Bull cans on a Taurus would destroy the car's upscale image, even though those snarky Mini people get away scot-free with those gimmicks. And the Taurus, which starts at $25,000 and can top $40,000 on the 365-horsepower SHO, is a big, grown-up sedan that's far beyond the budgets of most college students.
There's lots to be done before Ford enters the consciousness of a prospective Audi or Lexus buyer, but the Taurus, simply by showing up in public, is moving this idea along.
"It takes a long time. Our guys tell us you have to have a few hundred thousand on the road before people say that they've seen them," said David Leitch, a Ford vice president and deputy counsel to former President George W. Bush, at City Hall Plaza.
Leitch wouldn't share the company's sales projections, but said the Taurus is competing in a large sedan segment that's roughly 800,000 cars per year. Its most direct domestic competitor is certainly the Buick LaCrosse, also significantly redone for 2010. Cadillac's smaller CTS is a contender at the upper end of the Taurus price range; if not for size, the CTS has earned its cred in vehicle dynamics and performance.
"If you look at Esquire, [which] named it car of the year, they compared it to an Audi A6 and a BMW 5 Series, so we're happy to be in that kind of company," Leitch said.
Just three years ago, when the original Taurus ended production after being restricted to fleet sales - an embarrassing end to what once was America's best-selling passenger car - Ford's newfound confidence against the premium imports would have been laughable. The company is in decent shape to brag, since it doesn't have to repay billions in government loans, and builds two of the most popular new cars bought under the controversial Cash for Clunkers program, the Focus and Escape, which saw 44 and 94 percent jumps in July sales, respectively.
Yet Ford's luxury heel-biting puts the company's Lincoln MKS in a quandary. If the Taurus website pits the Blue Oval against the Infiniti M45, Audi A6 4.2, and even a Lexus LS 460, what's Lincoln doing with a car that's built on the same platform, with the same engines and similar equipment, but costs more? The Mercury Sable has been discontinued this year for just that reason.
Average new car transactions now crest $26,000, according to a recent study by Comerica Bank, so there's nothing unreasonable about the price. But will Americans pay this much for a nameplate with a notoriously low residual value? With more and more higher-end Fords arriving from Europe, they may finally feel justified to do so.
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