Our relationships with our cars tend to be just like our personal relationships, some are made in heaven, others survive many reversals of fortune only to end unexpectedly, and others end quite abruptly.
This comparison came to mind when I read on Freep, the online edition of the Detroit Free Press, that Ford was defending the Flex. The crossover has underperformed. At launch the expectation was to sell 70,000 to 100,000 per year. With July sales figures in the can, the company is on track to sell less than 40,000 in 2010.
With an overall length of 201.8 inches and a 68 inch height the truck has often found the adjective “boxy” in its bio. Add to this the vehicle’s track of 65.5 inches and the consumer is reminded of the stance and substance of a bulldog. But there is nothing wrong with being distinctive or quirky--that, after all, is why the Donald Trumps and Madonnas walk amongst us.
But does it work on the road? History tells us that sometimes it doesn’t. Two rear engine cars that were popular for a time are examples; they were the Chevrolet Corvair and the Pontiac Fiero. They fell on hard times when their safety shortcomings surfaced. Ralph Nader zeroed in on the Corvair in his book Unsafe at Any Speed and launched his career as a consumer advocate. The Fiero had this little problem with oil leaking in the engine compartment which eventually caused fires.
On the other hand, there are the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Caravan, which although they might not have been considered avant-garde at rollout, did break new ground. In case you keep track of such things they have been around since the 1965 and 1983 model years respectively. Call it striking a nerve or filling a niche, they have survived the often fickle tastes of showroom gazers.
Getting back to the Flex, we encountered one negotiating a parking spot at a weekend farmers market, which prompted my wife to question why anyone would own one. I responded that the owners that I have encountered seemed very pleased with their purchases. Pleased owners are the first step towards brand loyalty as any suit at the Subaru marketing department will attest.
The following Monday, a retired brick layer with a bad back who was one of the Flex owners on which I based my response to my wife stopped in and asked me to check the air in his tires. When I asked if he was still pleased with his purchase he said his attitude had changed since he had recently been to the dealership and they had to perform a lobotomy. “I took it in for a check engine light and they had to change the whole brain,” he said.