Exactly a decade ago today, Ford ended production of the legendary Ford Taurus.
Along with Dodge’s Caravan, the Taurus is absolutely one of the most influential and important cars of the 1980s. It ushered in a new era of automotive design in North America and created a wholly new template for the modern sedan — and Ford turned its back on it.
Launched in 1985, the initial Taurus replaced the conservative LTD as Ford’s midsize offering. Borrowing a great deal from Ford Europe’s Sierra and Audi’s 5000, it was highly praised for its modern, aerodynamic design and immediately became a sales leader. Over two million first-generation cars had been sold by 1991.
The car received a subtle and familiar redesign in its second generation before Ford decided to make the car unrecognizable in 1996. Jack Telnack’s controversial ovoid redesign of the Taurus led to diminished interest from the public, although rental fleets kept figures high enough to keep pace with Japanese midsize imports like the Camry and Accord. Telnack left Ford the following year.
As interest in the Taurus declined, Ford began seeking ways to cut costs in order to keep the model competitive. In its 2000 redesign, Ford eliminated premium features on higher-end models and dropped the SHO performance variant.
Ford’s decision to eliminate the Taurus is difficult one to understand. Sales of the fourth-generation car remained relatively stable until the company began cutting back on production, only selling to fleets by 2006. While the terrible cast iron Vulcan V6 stretched itself to its absolute limit to compensate for the model’s continually growing mass, the Duratec 30 provided better-than-tepid power. Ford was facing very public financial troubles at the time and was losing the sedan war to the Japanese, but it could still be argued that the demise of the Taurus was premature. Honda sold 369,293 Accords in 2005, while Ford managed 304,851 as production began to slow.
When the last Taurus finally left the line in Hapeville, Georgia, it took 1,950 jobs with it. One of those jobs belonged to John Rape from Zebulon, GA. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. Wait until Monday morning when I wake up and don’t have anywhere to go,” he told USA Today in an interview.
Rape and the other workers could select among eight different separation, educational and retirement packages offered by Ford. At the time, the company was undergoing its massive The Way Forward restructuring plan aimed at reshaping the company and reducing expenses as hard times approached.
The last fourth-generation Taurus went to Chick-fil-A restaurant chain founder Truett Cathy, who credited the success of his first restaurant in Hapeville to repeat business from Ford workers across the street.
The Taurus’ death was short lived, however. Rumors of the Five Hundred being renamed as the Taurus were confirmed in 2007. That year, revamped Five Hundred and Freestyle models were unveiled as the Taurus and Taurus X at the Chicago Auto Show. Ford’s CEO at the time, Alan Mulally, said that he believed the Taurus’ initial discontinuation was a mistake, asserting that the Five Hundred should have been named Taurus from the very start.
Despite the revived Taurus name, later models haven’t come close to the sales successes of the “failing” model years of the early 2000s. Ford only sold 48,816 units of the full-size current incarnation of the Taurus in 2015. Shrinking passenger car sales aside, it’s probably partly because it’s not the Taurus North America remembers anymore. That car died ten years ago.
[Images: Ford Motor Company]