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« Not-So Central Stations | Main | Architecture and Happiness: Bricks and Shadows »

July 24, 2007

Stealth New-Product Announcements

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm drafting this article on 19 July. Two days ago I spotted a 2008 Mercury Sable rental car on Interstate 5. I knew it was a 2008 model because the 2007 guise of the same car had the name Mercury Montego.

What I didn't know was that 2008 Mercurys had been announced and were on the road.

So I checked the Web a few minutes ago and found this link to 2008 Mercury Sables and this link to its near-twin, the 2008 Ford Taurus. By golly, 2008 model Fords and Mercurys are here!

Had I spotted a new Ford Taurus I would have known that it too was a 2008 model. That's because until now it was called the Ford 500. Ford Motor Company's new CEO Alan Mulally ditched the alliterative model names that FoMoCo's previous management was so (mistakenly, I think) enamored of and revived better-known model names that lapsed recently (a better idea, but not necessarily optimal).

What's important here is the fact that I didn't know that the Ford 2008 model year cars had been launched.

I'm interested in cars, but not to the point that I regularly read car-buff blogs to get the very latest fuzzy spy-photos of prototypes, industry rumors and press releases. I subscribe to Autoweek magazine but missed any reference to the 2008s had they existed. I don't recall seeing newspaper advertising heralding the resurrection of the Taurus and Sable. As for television, I almost never watch it any more, so didn't have a chance for a commercial roll past me.

Am I that totally out of it? Or did Ford not even bother with more than a half-hearted publicity campaign?

I suspect it's the latter. That's because car companies have gradually de-emphasized model year changes over the past 30 or 40 or more years. Time was, an automobile manufacturer would have been embarrassed if it had offered too-modest a styling face-lift for a new model year. Nowadays it can be almost impossible to distinguish a model's year simply by looking; my 2005 Chrysler 300 is virtually identical on the outside to 2006 and 2007 versions.

Excitement was the order of the announcement day back in the 1940s and 50s. I remember when the 1949 Fords debuted. Searchlights at dealerships probed the night sky. There was a radio broadcast featuring the event (Seattle's first TV station wasn't yet on the air).

I remember the thrill of seeing some uncovered 1956 Fords on a truck on their way to a dealer a few days before the release date. Back then, styling of the next-year models was a tightly kept secret, so those 56s I spotted should have been under canvas.

By keeping styling secret, manufacturers whetted the curiosity of potential buyers. Car-buff magazines played along with this by printing "sneak-preview" articles containing suggestive, but not informative photos of different bits of forthcoming models. (Nowadays, pretty detailed views of cars a year or two from production are commonly seen in such publications.)

Even news magazines got into the act -- especially for the big 1955 model year when most makes got completely restyled or received face-lifts so major that appearance was drastically changed. I thinned out a lot of my ancient magazine collection, but it's possible that I still have some Newsweeks from that era dealing with forthcoming cars. If they turn up this fall when we finish unpacking from our Seattle move, I'll scan some of the material and post it if the 2Blowhards' Web server is willing to take 100+ KB images.

To wrap this up for now, let me say that cash-strapped American car companies need good products to survive and they need to market those products wisely. Keeping important (and exciting!) new cars under tight wraps and generating introduction enthusiasm and publicity similar to that for Harry Potter novels might not be a bad thing. Free, favorable publicity and word-of-mouth excitement beats paid advertising almost all the time. And it doesn't cost nearly as much.



posted by Donald at July 24, 2007


Ford is obsessed with grim gray, black, or cold bluish-tinted interiors. There is nothing welcoming about them, as one can see from the Taurus and Sable websites. Heaven forbid that Ford should produce an interior that is warm and inviting. Friends of mine bought a new Escape with a charcoal interior a while ago, found it so depressing that they got rid of it after a year and bought a Toyota SUV.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on July 24, 2007 9:45 PM

I hadn't realised that Ford was still in business.

Posted by: dearieme on July 25, 2007 3:30 AM

I've been wondering the past 5-6 years if there has been simply an overwhelming dearth of tool & die craftsman in the US of A. What with all of the design software now available, it seems much easier these days to "draw" visions of new and exciting automobiles. But, when it comes to bending, braking, and forming metal and plastic are our metal crafts capabilities in a fallow time?

Posted by: DarkoV on July 25, 2007 7:41 AM

It doesn't surprise me that Ford is downplaying the introductions of the "new" Taurus and Montego. Neither is actually a new model, but nothing more than the renaming (using old names) of two poorly selling, uninteresting vehicles that should have been discontinued.

DarkoV -
No doubt the people who might have become tool and die craftsmen in the past are today going to liberal arts college for exhorbitantly overpriced and unmarketable BA degrees. By the time they're in their mid-20's, instead of earning good money in high-demand skilled trades, and buying houses and new cars and all that, they're still living with Mom and Dad while working for $9 an hour at Starbucks and trying to pay off gargantuan student loans.

Posted by: Peter on July 25, 2007 9:01 AM

Peter, If not the unmarketable BA's, perhaps the self-aggrandizing and non-tangible and false productive Finance and MBA degrees? I'm not going to cast too many dispersions on any college degree. I think the fault lies in the lack of respect that the early schooling years (through high school) give to any of the crafts. Carpentry. Electric work. Tool & Die. It's all coming back to bite us now. High schools especially should be attuned to the art of funneling kids to the various careers open to them instead of blindly feeding them into the maw of college education. That's what they used to do pre-60's era. What the hell happened; the self-delusional Renaissance Man (and Woman) DIY-er shoddiness era.

Posted by: DarkoV on July 25, 2007 10:48 AM

I'm all for browbeating schools and kids into thinking twice about college. God knows that there are a lot of kids who'd be far better off with some craft or vocational training rather than the usual college experience. Who was it who talked the entire US into thinking that 4 years of typical college is always and everywhere a good thing?

BTW, are Tauruses and Sables real stinkers? As someone who hasn't owned a car in 30 years, I'm completely outside car culture. Well, not completely -- The Wife and I rent cars when we travel. And when we do we actually prefer Tauruses and Sables. They seldom have problems, and they're such generic and OK cars that there's no trouble figuring out how they work -- it's all very straightforward. Sometimes we get stuck with a non-Taurus car, and always spend a couple of days cursing at the controls, and windows, and wipers, and heater, and radio, etc .... So we're actually fans of the Taurus-type car. But "people who only rent cars" have to be pretty rare in America.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 25, 2007 11:53 AM

Marketing is only useful when your product is the same as your competitors' or better. Apple's marketing is brilliant, but the iPod (as a total package) really is better than the competition. Coke and Pepsi have great marketing, but they're about as good as each other and much better than all other competition.

Ford on the other hand...

Posted by: JewishAtheist on July 25, 2007 12:06 PM

Darko, look no further: I'm your college-educated Tool and Die craftsman [craftsWOman? sounds terrible], who got [second] Art and Design degree.
More specifically, Press and Die engineer. By first MS diploma. And I used to design huge die casts and automated press lines for automative industry, trucks in particular. Back in USSR.

What happened is when I got here and checked the job market it turned out there is no work for Die engineers (especially women Die engineers). Or if there is, 1) the competition is fierce 2)you have to live in Detroit, and only in Detroit. 3) if automotive industry goes down, you go down with it.

I suspect similar considerations are keeping young HS graduates from becoming Tool and Die crsftsmen.
Market, she's a bitch.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 25, 2007 2:21 PM

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