Ford Five Hundred to become Taurus

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- The Taurus is coming back. But in name only.

The model that once brought gobs of revenue to the now-needy Ford Motor Co., and jobs to the now-desolate Hapeville, Ga., plant that assembled it, reportedly is being exhumed.


An announcement is expected today at the Chicago Auto Show that Ford's poorly selling midsize sedan, the Five Hundred, will be renamed the Taurus.

Automakers have dusted off old labels and reassigned them - like Chevrolet's Impala and Malibu. What's unusual is applying recycled monikers to existing models.


"A car that's getting a name change without much change in the car, that is not normal," said John Wolkonowicz, senior market analyst of North American autos for the consulting firm Global Insight.

Five Hundred is not the model's sales ranking among autos, but it's close. Last month's total plunged by nearly one-half from January 2006 to 3,526.

"A disaster," Wolkonowicz, who once worked for Ford, said of customer affection for the car. "It looks ungainly."

The Taurus was hardly a hot item when Ford parked it last year amid declining sales. But during its heyday, the auto was embraced by economically minded families ultimately seeking more substance than style.

The Taurus made a splash in 1985, when Motor Trend magazine honored the original version as its Car of the Year. In '92, it beat the Honda Accord as North America's best seller. By 1998, the dynasty had crumbled.

Wolkonowicz does not view the notion of Ford tapping into its recent past as part of its Way Forward recovery program as a fruitless act. He maintains that the Taurus name still holds cachet in the segment of middle America that drove it off the lot for two decades.

At the same time, it won't lift Ford out of the ditch that has ensnared the company, which bled $12.7 billion last year.

"The name change will help the car, but not a whole lot," Wolkonowicz said.