The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Whither Art Thou, Ford Motor Company? by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday October 22, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Whither Art Thou, Ford Motor Company?

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday October 22, 2009

 

Whither Now, Ford Motors?

Lately, the Ford Motor Company, the corporation that put America on wheels, has been on a bit of a roll. The new Taurus has been such a hit that dealers in trendy California, typically a bastion of import buyers, can’t keep them on the lot. It’s a repeat of the rollout of the then-risky 1986 model that redefined midsize cars in America, one that went on to be the best-selling car in America for many years. The SHO variant of the Taurus is a darling of the Walter Mitty types, who dream of being a race car driver while ferrying Junior and Buffy to Gymboree. These are the same folks who, a few years ago, were developing ulcers trying to decide between a Camry and an Accord without a thought towards a domestic car.

The new F-150 with its “man-steps” is selling well. The upcoming new diesel engine in the Super Duties is a technological tour-de-force that fascinates me, even if it has to inject what amounts to piss into the exhaust system to meet emission standards. (Look it up. “Urea” is a polite term.) The Fusion and Escape Hybrids have become the darlings of ecologically concerned domestic buyers and Polar Bear huggers to the point even Al Gore, his hysterical old self, takes his Starbucks runs in a Mercury Mariner Hybrid when the Lear Jet is down for service — and so does the Prez when he’s home in Chi-Town. Meanwhile, the new Mustang is just flat out gorgeous to the point I’ve calculated payments on one more than a few times. And the Ford execs who color outside the lines have bought to fruition several niche models like the Raptor off-road pickup, the Cobra Jet race cars, and the Shelbys that keep us car guys programming the number of the local Ford franchise into our cells and playing the Powerball lottery. Ford’s market share is up, and the latest JD Power numbers indicate that Ford has equaled, if not surpassed, Hondas and Toyotas as far as reliability and owner satisfaction. (Lately, Toyota has been revealing their feet of clay to give the home team a little breathing room. Can I interest you in a used set of floor mats?) Yeah, in the bottom of the ninth Ford has hit an out-of-the-park grand slam that would make Ryan Howard weep with envy, even if the game still isn’t over.

Perhaps most importantly to the war-winning, pickup driving, tattooed, beer drinking backbone of the American population, the sort that made the name Harley equal to Locklear for desirability, Ford forewent the dole when the current administration was handing out government bucks — our tax dollars — to car companies like Halloween treats to fat kids. Ford was confident enough they had the product in the pipeline to swear off the government handouts that make GM and Chrysler look like the Welfare Mothers of the Universe… and they did. That gave them some important street cred amongst those with concerns their great-grandkids are going to be paying off the debt for short-sighted investment types of our generation.

The Blue Oval Brigade may be number one in domestic showroom sales, but they are being outshined on the track.

Before we go forward, let me admit a certain degree of affection for Ford. My first car was a silver ’70 Mustang Mach One 428 Cobra Jet four speed, slathered with the requisite shaker, spoilers, and slats. (And there’s not a day that goes by I don’t daydream of finding that car under cover in the back of a barn, in the same shape I had it when my dad sold it out from under me because I got caught street racing for the third time.) My first new car out of college was a 1982 Mustang GT. Along the way I’ve owned Bosses, a Shelby, numerous GTs, and such Blue Oval oddities as a 428 four speed Ram Air Ranchero and a 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator Cobra Jet that could lift the front tires on cheater slicks. (I had “Mercury Poisoning” lettered in gold leaf on the rear decklid, and more than a few Mopar and Chevy guys succumbed to the disease on Front Street.)

I’m not a dyed in the wool Ford fan. My current fleet includes a GMC half-ton pickup, my ’76 455 Trans Am, a ’63 Nova SS convertible, a ’70 SS Nova clone, and a ’72 big block Chevelle. (I just haven’t bought a new GM vehicle since my brand new Z28 left me and my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend walking in the pouring rain after my sister’s wedding.) Over the years, I’ve owned Road Runners (one a six pack), Chargers, and Darts. Hell, once when I was broke, I bought a Toyota Celica that was serving as a doghouse for 150 bucks, then drove it for three years and over a hundred thousand miles while I got my financial house in order. Yes, we all have our shameful pasts we need to fess up to.

So to sum it all up, I’m a car guy. If it’s got a big engine and it lights my fire, I’ll survive on bologna sandwiches and generic beer a few months to own it. But if I were to bet the 401k (what’s left of it) on one of the Big Four right now, I’d have my chips down on Ford.

But let’s look at NASCAR racing. (Gentle readers, you know eventually through a roundabout way I always return to topic like a retriever with wanderlust always returns to the porch.) The 2009 season started off great for the brand. Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500, which is sort of like Don Knotts winning a prize fight. He followed that up with a win at Fontana the following week, making Roush look like they were on top of their game. But since then, Ford has been blanked in 29 straight races. They’ve won zero, zip, nada Cup races (their worst slump since 1982-83) even while Chevy has hogged the limelight and Toyota and Fiat-Chrysler (as unholy an alliance as has ever been seen since Pamela Anderson married Tommy Lee) have enjoyed their moments in the sun.

In years past, the sort of domination that GM is enjoying this year would have had NASCAR rewriting the rules on an hourly basis to try to restore parity. Ask Bill Elliott. By now, the Fords would be allowed to run superchargers and the Chevys would be forced to tow 30 foot travel-trailers behind them.

But in the brave new world of the Car of Sorrow, the bodies of the cars are so similar, even NASCAR can’t justify tweaking spoiler or roof heights to equalize the racing to the least common denominator. So what’s gone wrong for Fords?

In Cup racing, Ford has basically put all their eggs in one basket, Roush Fenway Racing, and its affiliate, the once proud Yates Racing. Sure, we still have the Wood Brothers part-time effort with Bill Elliott, but when the cards are on the table, Ford’s NASCAR efforts center on Roush. So as Roush’s fortunes rise and fall in NASCAR, so do those of the Blue Oval faithful. That’s a far cry from an era where Robert Yates Racing, Junior Johnson, the Wood Brothers, and the Elliott single-car team all carried the flag to great heights. When Fords seemed all but dead in the water way back when, privateer Ernie Elliott’s high swirl cylinder head work simply caught the GM teams asleep at the wheel in what would be a renaissance for their brand (Remember 1985?) Some would argue that there was some aerodynamic chicanery (the seven/eighth scale Thunderbird that allowed Bill Elliott to rally back from three laps down without a caution at Talladega) or rear end geometry (Junior Johnson’s cambered rear ends) that also gave Ford what Roger Penske used to call “an unfair advantage.” Be that as it may, you had three or more organizations fighting not only their crosstown automaker rivals, but each other for supremacy back then — which greatly increased the frequency of innovations.

Likewise, GM has put the majority of their eggs in the basket of Rick Hendrick and friends, though RCR still soldiers along like a three-legged dog chasing pheasants. Next year, Dodge will have just one supported team — Roger Penske — and Toyota has shifted their focus to Joe Gibbs Racing, while Michael Waltrip and company remain nothing more than an amusing sideshow.

So let’s face it: Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs are the key players here, and that’s not good for the sport. As one of the organization’s ships come in on an annual basis, the tides of the others tend to go out. This year, it’s Hendrick’s time to dominate? Why? In watching the races with the new cars, it seems the Rick Hendrick bunch have figured out something with the front end geometry that allows them extra speed in the corners — even with the coil springs wound up so tight the splitters are dragging the track. That allows those Chevys to carry extra speed through the corners, and it was clearly evident at Charlotte down the straights the Hendrick engines were in a class of their own. Johnson could outrun Matt Kenseth in a straight line so handily it appeared the 17 car was dragging an anchor.

In the good old days of which I am so fond, there would have been two or three organizations affiliated with the various carmakers looking for new tricks to avoid having their asses handed to them again next week. But as I mentioned above, Ford has only Jack Roush. I’m sure Roush is about to launch into one of his accusatory rants that Hendrick and his boys are not only cheating, but screwing sheep in acts of pagan worship to the demons that run NASCAR today — but that’s not going to help any. Horsepower would, and both Ford and Dodge actually have new engines ready to go — but the teams seem hesitant to use them for fears of reliability, one of the unintended consequences of the testing ban. Well here’s a hint, guys… you ain’t beating Rick and friends for the title this year. So go ahead and throw the dice on the new engines in an attempt to salvage a little dignity with an eye towards next year. Work out the bugs now, so you can come hard out of the gate in 2010. And while you’re at it, screw around with the front end geometry to try to find out that secret HMS has. Because it’s over for 2009: You’ve had your asses handed to you in a hat with a big red bowtie on the TV panel.

Compounding the problem for Ford is off song seasons by some of their top pilots. Carl Edwards, last year’s most prolific winner, has yet to win a race. Greg Biffle, who has won at least one race per season since 2003, has yet to hoist the hardware this year, either. Since winning the first two races of the season, Matt Kenseth has enjoyed just four top 5 finishes in 29 races. UPS may be sold on David Ragan, but he hasn’t delivered.

In the first year of the Chase, Kurt Busch won the title driving a Roush Ford. All four of Roush’s teams made the Chase. (Though Jimmie Johnson finished just eight points out of the hunt.) In 2005, all five of Roush’s drivers finished in the top 10 in points, despite Kurt Busch having been handed his walking papers with two races left to run. Roush won three of the last four races in a quixotic attempt to wrest the title from Johnson some way or another. But since then, it’s been an all-Chevy and the all-Jimmie Johnson show at year’s end.

Ford’s showrooms might be crowded, but the stands at NASCAR races are increasingly barren. Because of that, we need a good Chevy-Ford-Dodge rivalry to reignite interest in some fans for the good of the sport. Meanwhile, if you know of a certain silver and black Cobra Jet Mustang with wads of Kelly Murphy’s Dentyne chewing gum stuck under the glovebox, I’d love to hear from you.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Sean
10/22/2009 12:46 AM
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Fiat bought into Chrysler, not Renault…

Good article though.

Gordon82Wins
10/22/2009 07:45 AM
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Jack Roush has a legitimate beef. He can’t run five cars, but Hendrick can run four and two satellite cars?

You also mentioned Bill Elliott when talking about how Chevy’s dominance today would bring out all sorts of parity rules. Except Elliott drove a Ford. Jeff Gordon dominating provoked no such reaction from NASCAR…and I say that as a Gordon fan.

It’s ok to crush the field, so long as there’s a bowtie on the car. Ask Toyota.

Mike
10/22/2009 07:45 AM
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That’s what the idiots at Ford get for putting their money behind the biggest jerk in racing! Maybe now they will smarten up and pull all funding from Jerk Roush and put it behind Petty/Yates! Then maybe we’ll see the last of that moron and his fleet of no-talant drivers! But then, they will never ever be a match for the powerhouse at Hendrick Motorsports! Ford should just get out of NASCAR all together and leave it to the only worthy manufacturer, Chevrolet. That would make me happy!

Ryan
10/22/2009 08:01 AM
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You do tend to ramble a bit Matt . I think the gist of this column is about reviving the car wars of the old days . But as you may have noticed , NASCAR decided some time ago to marginalize the Chevy vs Ford vs Dodge vs Toyota and instead push the hero worship of the drivers . And that also made it much easier for the networks to hire pit reporters , they don’t have to know even the basics of racing and race cars .
The COT is i’m afraid , the end of the line for automaker rivalry . Thats one more reason that true fans of racing are finding that NASCAR is far more entertainment than it is racing .

janice
10/22/2009 08:07 AM
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i seriously doubt petty/yates will do anything next year. eversince robert turned over the reighs to doug, it hasn’t been good.

just sad to see what’s going on. and eventhough i hate him with a passion, roush is right to complain. maybe he needs to jettison off that 5th team to a satellite operation like hendrick did with stewart/haas. come on na$car, i think the blind, deaf and mute monkey knows s/h is hendrick part II.

i remember when cars won the daytona 500 and were put into daytona usa, the other teams would go and visit and try to figure out what made the winning car run so well.

i’d love a new ‘stang, but i have a problem with car that starts at $23,000 (here in ga), and depreciates as quick as my 401(k)no more than you leave the lot. i’ve had 3 ‘stangs in my life, and still love the pony car, but that’s a lot of coin to drop, especially with economy still shakey and jobs as well.

will the last one to leave turn the lights out?!

Bill B
10/22/2009 08:18 AM
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Gordon82Wins,
Actually Roush doesn’t have a beef. He has the same deal.
HMS (4 teams) = Roush (5 teams)
SHR (2 teams) = RYR (2 teams)
Seems about the same to me.

Charles
10/22/2009 09:19 AM
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Nascar showing favortism to GM is one of the reasons ‘CAR Fans” are leaving the sport!
Let see after Earnhardts and Jeff Gordons winning most of the point titles what does Nascar do? award them a new SB2 ENGINE!
Then in 2006 after winning apox 80% Daytona Races, Talledaga races, 70% laps led Nascar awards them with a RO7 engine, this after total domination!
Ford found out in the ninties when they were spending all the money and getting little result remember Yates, Roush, Jr Johnson, Stolva Bros, Bud Moore! They decided to cut back!
You can be sure that is a Ford, DODGE Toyota was dominating like Hendrick is now there would be rule changes, remember 2000 Daytona 500 the last time another brand dominated, look at all the rule changes!To prove GM has advantage today, look at Bobby Labonte he gets in low buck Chevy and qualifies iin top 10, in Yate equipment he is in the back! Juan Palblo Montoya is another faster car than the Dodges and Fords and Toyota! Nascar has this attitude that is Chevy is not winning racing is nnot right has gone on for to long! Even Chevy Fans I know are not going because it is so oneside!
Gm has great cars and teams but enough is enough!

wcfan
10/22/2009 09:44 AM
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Mike, slow down on the kool-aid. You bad mouth anyone who does not like Hendrick’s, then go and bash Roush. I’m not a fan of either, I like RCR. If Roush would share some of they handling setups with Yates that might help. When Roush got Yates power they started running in the front but Yates cars did not move, this I believe was do to handling.

Charlie
10/22/2009 09:52 AM
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Bottom line: NASCAR is proping up GM because it is bankrupt and needs to show how well its teams do in the sport. I’m sure some heads are turned to “enhancements.”
They penalized Ford for
being well run and making a profit. Ford won the first two races before the shake up at GM was announced. Look at the history.

Ken
10/22/2009 10:07 AM
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Mike, your constant bashing of Roush is not only getting tiresome, it’s bordering on Psychotic! Give it a rest, for crying out loud!

Carl D.
10/22/2009 11:47 AM
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My big black Ford Freestyle may look like a hearse, but it’s one of the best cars I’ve owned in my 35 years of driving. And my 2004 Mustang may not look as boss as the newer models, but it’s given me 5 years of trouble-free service. The last Chevy I bought was a mid-90’s Lumina; I don’t remember the exact year nor do I care. What a piece of crap! My ex-wife got it in the divorce settlement so there is some justice in this world.

Kudos to Ford for doing so well without government assistance. My next vehicle will surely be a Ford, probably an F-150.

I won’t get involved in the manufacturer debate as it pertains to Nascar. There’s no such thing as Fords, Chevys, Dodges, or Toyotas in Nascar, just COT’s with misleading emblems and decals.

don mei
10/22/2009 12:06 PM
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Spare us the Studs Terkel liturgy please. Lot of us eastern effete Ivy league snobs know how to handle an M16, ride a motorcycle and drive a Mustang 5/5. As to Fords involvement in Nascar…lets get serious here. I bought a bunch of Ford stock last year for $2 or so a share because I felt Ford had the best product line and had not taken any federal money. Quite frankly, as a stockholder I really could care less if Ford goes Nascar racing. Its a spec series now; the only differences are the decals. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is stone cold dead. Why dont we just go ahead and call all the POS cars Frances and be done with it.

Henry M
10/22/2009 01:04 PM
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Jack Roush never won regularly until the deal with Yates and he finally got good engines. But Yates got nothing.
Dealing with Jack is like dealing with the Devil!

boplenty
10/22/2009 02:43 PM
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Matt, a good read as always. My first was a yellow ’69 Mach One with a little 351C and my second, after I had to get married, was a ’73 Grand Torino Squire stationwagon complete with fake wood on the side.

I’ve always been a Ford man and loved watching Pearson, Yarborough and even Petty (‘69) tear up the tracks. Ford hasn’t given me much to shout about at the races lately but then again , they are not really Fords or Chevys on the track.

Kudos to Ford for staying off welfare, catching up with Toyota/Honda in quality and outselling the current so called “winners” on the track.

How is NASCAR going to get some “brand” excitement back into racing? How can they do anything with the Car of Sorrow? They better do something after looking at the Lowes grandstands last Saturday…100,000 attending a track with a 155,000 seating capacity.

The Turnip!
10/22/2009 02:48 PM
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Ahh, so many things!

But interesting your comments about the front suspensions! Maybe Chad K. found something and passed it on to his teammates (well, apparently all except Jr. it appears).

With the POS, and with NA$CRAP claiming that all the engines that they dyno being within a very few horsepower (is it horsepower or torque that gets a car around an oval?), then a “super secret” suspension trick just might be in order.

BUT HOW? This is yet another area where NA$CRAP dictates travel, springs, shock absorbers, pick up points,etc.

Back-in-the-days, you could have rear steer, front steer, and many other things to help handling, today, not sure there is any manuevering room with front end components.

And how exciting do you think it is to be a FoMoCo supporter and want to go to the track to see a “Fusion” or a “Taurus” as a “race car”?

Now that is one sick proposition!

And last but not certainly least, just love your writing style and all the elements you bring into play!

Almost makes reading about NA$CRAP interesting!

Almost I said!

Big thanks!

herb
10/22/2009 03:15 PM
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McLaughlin you got it right! It’s been in the bag for GM (Chevy) ever since they took the bailout money. NASCAR is still living under the “race on Sunday/sell on Monday” attitude. So that the government won’t loose (not that they haven’t already) their money, they but the bite on NASCAR to let GM win—-this year. If Ford had the dominence, then you’d see rule changes and gasping for air by the suits in NASCAR—-and government. And one last thing—-ya’ gotta wonder if an FR-9 wasn’t under the hood of the #17 last Saturday night. But NASCAR couldn’t let that happen to the Lowe’s car at the Lowe’s track. So they took the #48, #5 and #16 cars for testing?? Beware GM—-be very aware of 2010 when all bets are off and the new super-cooled FR-9 comes a callin’.

Joe W.
10/23/2009 03:45 PM
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Lots of interesting comments on here. As a Ford fan I will take exception with a few. The 23k for a Mustang is a steal when compared to 40k for a Camaro or Challanger and NO IMPORT has ever made a car like those three. End of story there. Now as far as Ford fans not liking the Fusion or Taurus as a race car Douglas, tell me in your infinate wisdom, how that is so much worse than a Camry or Impala. I don’t see it. I have a Fusion and a Taurus and they are both great. I also had a Taurus SHO and loved it. I also loved my 99 Mustang GT until some idiot hit me in it. I never had any problems with it. I never even had to put a battery in it. I had it from 99 to 2006, before the fore mentioned idiot. I would love, love, love to have a new Mustang or Taurus SHO and while I still want Ford to have a precence in Nascar I must admit that even I am boring with the JJ show. Oh one more thing, Mike this constant Roush bashing is unhealthy. I think you need to see a shrink because this could be considered an obscession.

Get the Facts
10/24/2009 12:38 AM
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Uh, Joe, you can also buy a Camaro for $23k, and it is 304 HP and will smoke the V6 Mustang. The SS Camaro starts at $31k, lets than the GT Mustang, and oh yeah smokes that too (13.0 in quarter). Argue that the Camaro has more HP. Fine, but it still costs less, end of story. Don’t even start the GT500 argument, KR or not. Compare to a Hennessey HPE550 (yes they are both supercharged version of the factory car using aftermarket parts) or a Lingenfelter LPE570 (also supercharged), and the GT500 is a whipped puppy once again. Oh, and once again the Camaro costs less. You can get a HPE550 performance packaged installed for a total price of $48k on the car, compared to over $50k on GT500, and did I mention the HPE550 or LPE570 kicks the snot out of the GT500? Don’t believe it? Check youtube, check 1/4 mile times, check 0-60 times, etc. In fact, the STOCK SS Camaro ran a 12.9 second quarter mile up against a GT500 w/ 540 HP which ran 12.8 seconds. Yeah, that extra $22k was worth 0.1 seconds!! Haha, roll in it Mustang fans, you’ve had your day and the Camaro is back – more power, better brakes, independent suspension, and CHEAPER!

Joe W.
10/26/2009 01:24 PM
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Get the facts, you need to get the facts. Where I live you can not get a Camaro cheaper. That is just not possable. Get your damn facts straight!! You can not buy an SS for 31k. The last one before they deleted it was 35K! The v6 is over 30k here. This Ford vs Chevy BS needs to be over. We need to be together against the imports but some of you Chevy guys will just never get it. I think the Camaro is cool, and the Challanger is cool, but where I live the Mustang is cheaper and guess what, it never got deleted and brought back. It has always been here in one form or another and the new one is pretty sweet. Why can’t we all just get along? LOL

More Facts
10/27/2009 10:48 PM
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Joe, keep trying dude. I have a 2SS that I paid $34k for. I have a friend who bought a 1SS for $31k. The new 2010 1SS stickers at $30.2k. Look it up dude, it is real, those are the numbers. Yes, they deleted it back in ’02 and brought it back right in ’09 as a ’10 model. Are you not aware of the 2010 Camaro, all the numbers you cite are are 2002. BTW, I’m glad they deleted it. It was a piece of crap in ’02. The ’10 is a kick-arse car! And I do agree with you, I would buy a Mustang (god forbid, lol) before I bought an import. I am very proud of Ford, GM, and Chrysler for allowing us to have debates like these. So I am not debating your love of Mustangs or that Mustangs are good and respectable cars, I am simply saying the ’10 Camaro is more car for the money – it is faster and cheaper, and yes those are the facts. Look them up. Go to a Chevy dealer and get pricing or to go www.chevrolet.com/camaro and read base prices on the models. The 1SS with 426HP LS-3 engine w/ 6-speed manual beats the ’10 Mustang GT by over 0.5 sec in 1/4 mile and is withing 0.1 sec of the GT500 … for $22k less than a GT500!!