Ford Abandons Rear Wheel Drive Plans

January 13, 2009

Demonstrating that a little bit of Detroit old-think still lingers on in Dearborn, Ford has decided that front-wheel drive (or at least transverse-mounted engines with front- or all-wheel drive propulsion) is the name of the game for its sedans in the foreseeable future. How is this old-think? Well, they reason that the market for big cars is diminishing with economic and energy cost woes (fair enough), so their future product plans dictate midsize and small cars and therefore front-wheel drive.

Wait, who said mid-size cars had to be front-wheel drive? And who said rear-wheel drive cars can't be fuel-efficient? I think Ford's missing an important market segment by abandoning rear-wheel drive. To really play in the enthusiast market and compete with foreign and domestic sport sedans, rear-wheel drive is the entry fee for being taken seriously. The front-wheel-biased (FWD or AWD) Lincoln MKS might be plush and opulent, but its nose-heavy manners make it ponderous next to the balanced rear-wheel drive poise of, say, a Caddy CTS, BMW's 3- and 5-series, and Mercedes' C- and E-Class sedans. Not to mention, a formidable Korean automaker by the name of Hyundai just took top honors for its, ahem, rear-wheel drive Genesis sedan as the North American Car Of The Year. And in base form with a potent V-6, that Hyundai nets a respectable 27 mpg highway.

Come on, Ford. Don't be myopic. Front-wheel drive is indeed efficient packaging for family sedans and non-enthusiast mobiles like the impressive new Taurus. But rear-wheel drive and efficient motoring are not mutually exclusive. I'm sure the new generation of EcoBoost direct-injected engines would work just as efficiently in a north/south configuration. Just ask Mercedes Benz, set to release a new E 250 CDI in Europe, powered by a new diesel four-cylinder that belts out 204 hp, a gut-punch 369 lb-ft torque, and does this all while achieving 44 mpg in a moderately hefty luxury sedan.

Ford Interceptor Concept

Ford Interceptor Concept

Enlarge Photo

For sure, Ford needs to focus (ha) and consolidate at the moment, and jettisoning rear-wheel drive might be the most cost-effective strategy for now. But we're as dismayed as J Mays who was eager to begin development of a new rear-wheel drive architecture along with the Ford of Australia. Hopefully one day there will be an aggressive, sporty, rear-wheel drive mid-sizer in the Ford/Mercury/Lincoln stable; Ford's stunning 2007 Interceptor Concept ('07 Detroit Auto Show) comes to mind.--Colin Mathews

[source: AutoWeek]

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