Michael's essay: Ford turns its back on the family sedan

The Ford motor company has announced it won’t make sedans anymore - just SUVs and trucks. “Setting aside the economic realities of the industry, the coming disappearance of the family sedan connotes a sea change in our love affair with the car.”
Workers busy at a production line of the Ford Fiesta at Dagenham in 1977. (Getty Images)

My first car was a 1954 Ford Fairlane bought from an uncle for $200. My first girlfriend called the car Betsy.
It was the last time I gave a name to a car. Naming your car is like naming your favourite kitchen appliance.

My girlfriend and I broke up shortly thereafter.

The Fairlane had a leaky radiator which I couldn't afford to repair. I kept three or four water-filled vinegar jars in the back seat to keep things cool.

This was in the pre-Honda, pre-Toyota, pre-BMW era. Every car looked different. There were more colours. Cars had wild fins and grills and gutsy exhaust pipes.

Visitors check out classic cars at a show in New Westminster. (Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association)

Teenage boys talked about only two things -- girls and when we would get our first driver's license. There were even bubble gum cards with flash photos of the latest models. 

Cars were king.

On the celebrity wall in my bedroom along with my baseball heroes, were the pictures of race car drivers Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss.

We were a rabidly loyal Ford family. My father wouldn't look at another make; Fords, Mercurys, Monarchs, that was it. He even toyed with the idea of an Edsel. When the ad campaign said, "There's a Ford in your future," they were talking about my father. I'm glad he's not around to see that Ford is getting out of the passenger car business.

It recently announced that from now on it would build only trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles. Apparently making family sedans has the potential of "destroying value" of the Ford name.

The head of the company said in addition that by 2020 "90 percent of the Ford portfolio in North America" will be everything but sedans.

Ford vehicles are seen on the sales lot of Metro Ford in Miami, Florida in 2010. (Getty Images)

Ford is a bracing American success story. Even throughout the economic crash of 2008 and 2009, Ford prevailed. It was the only US car company that didn't declare bankruptcy.

About 10 years ago, the company set out to become the greenest company in the auto industry. For more than 10 years, it invested heavily in making more fuel-efficient cars. The federal government helped the process with a $5.9 billion dollar loan.

But Ford has decided to go back to the era of the gas guzzler. Green, I guess, isn't selling very well. Which means the family sedan is just not selling as well as the SUVs and the truck models.

Manager of Ford research Laurence Martland in sits in an experimental electric car named the 'Comuta' in 1967. Only a few were ever produced. (Getty Images)

Even Ford's great rival, General Motors, is looking at getting out of the sedan market, though not for awhile. Chrysler started moving away from family cars and hatchbacks a few years ago.

Naturally, it all has to do with profit. The logic is simple; the profit margins on trucks are much fatter than on family cars.
Ford is making less profit on sedans, even if it sells a lot of them. And the company does not want to spend a lot of that profit -- and more -- on re-designing a car that probably won't sell.

North America, to a large extent, was developed by and for the car -- the family car.

Setting aside the economic realities of the industry, the coming disappearance of the family sedan connotes a sea change in our love affair with the car.

A convertible Ford Mustang in front of the Arch of Triumph in Paris during a vintage cars parade. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)

We no longer build cars with flourish and high style. Instead we want power and the ability to travel at absurd speeds. In place of imaginative design, we have opted for boredom and conformity. We can no longer tell one car from another.

Ford will continue to build the legendary Mustang, but almost as an afterthought.

Or, perhaps the company wants to harken back to a time when cars had character and class and the young dreamt of open roads and fateful journeys.