The Ford Taurus is often derided often by car enthusiasts who think of it as this lame, cost-cut, mass-produced rental car. “Who even cares about a Taurus?” they’ll scoff. Well, I care. And you should also care, because the Taurus was one of Ford’s most significant cars – ever – and also hugely impactful to the automotive industry.
I grew up in a Taurus; not the first generation shown in the ad spot here but in a facelifted, second-gen 1994 Taurus LX. My first few years were spent in my dad’s 1987 Nissan Stanza and mom’s 1988 Nissan Sentra, perfectly fine transportation for a young family with a newly-minted Realtor® father busting his butt to grow his business and pay the mortgage. After some years, business picked up and it was time to upgrade at least one car. Realtors at the time were big on taking clients around to tour houses – this is long before Google Maps and CarPlay, mind you – so my dad wanted something nice, but not flashy.
I’ve quizzed him on why the Taurus was his ultimate choice. He claims that at the time – fall of 1993 or so – the buy-American sentiment was strong. Most European brands, save for Volkswagen, were priced out of his reach anyway. Japanese automakers were making strong inroads with vehicles like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but they too came with price premiums, often found marked up above sticker.
So Dad looked at Ford, General Motors, and Dodge to see what was what. The direct competitors would’ve been a Chevrolet Lumina, Pontiac Bonneville, and Dodge Intrepid. They were all fine options in hindsight, but the Taurus won out. I think the strong reputation that started with its launch seven or eight years prior carried a lot of weight, too.
Ford Bets The Farm
Ford had been bleeding money leading up to the Taurus development kick-off. The 1970s were a rough time for everyone given the energy crisis and associated lack of desire for large cars that sucked fuel. Ford had their new Escort compact, but needed something else to go alongside it, replacing the dated Granada-née-LTD as a larger family sedan.
Enter the 1980s, 1981 to be exact. Fuel economy, technology, and front-wheel drive were all top of mind for Ford. It was time to get with the front-wheel drive, aerodynamic-and-modern program, and that program became the Taurus.
The Taurus program was Ford’s first time using a “one team” sort of approach, in that designers and engineers and other key players all talked frequently and worked together to conceive this new product. The idea of designing a car and throwing it over the wall to engineers with no collaboration sounds ridiculous today, but that was the norm at the time. And that’s to say nothing of how the final product got tossed to the assembly plant with a “build it” edict and no feedback sought on how these actual humans might assemble the car.
Additionally, Ford used focus groups to reach out directly to customers and understand what they wanted out of their next car, instead of simply deciding for them. This flew in the face of Henry Ford’s statement that asking a customer what they want would result in “a faster horse” instead of the Model T, but it worked. Styling was softened and aerodynamics were emphasized. Interior design focused more on driver interaction and less on “well we’ve already got this switchgear, use it.”
An incredible amount of money was spent on developing the Taurus – $3.5 billion, to be exact. That was a wild amount in 1980s dollars. By comparison, the subcompact Fiesta was developed at a cost of $870 million.
I’d recommend Eric Taub’s excellent book Taurus: The Making of the Car That Saved Ford if you want to truly nerd out on how different this all was.
Taurus, For Us!
Taurus’ launch was, much like the car itself, a huge deal. Ford rented MGM Studios for the media launch and hosted an over-the-top event, with plenty of pomp, circumstance, and futuristic vibes. And then, they launched “Taurus: For Us” as their ad campaign.
The jingle is a get-your-blood-pumping affair that tells consumers exactly what Ford built and what they’re getting. It sounds silly, but “the shape and the feel we’ve never seen before” was a legitimate claim. The grizzly-sounding voiceover that so confidently states how “Ford listened. Ford created Taurus – for us” drives home the point that focus groups made an impact on how the car was developed.
Background music crescendos, the singer’s voice swells as he declares that Ford has seen the future and dammit, the future is HERE. A shorter variant of the same ad was created, for both United States and Canadian markets – note the singer says “a North American car” and not just “American” in this version:
It’s so very majestic, a ton of glitter thrown about for a blue station wagon or a silver sedan, but it worked. Ford went on to sell a ton of Tauruses and related Mercury Sables, their stock price jumped over 75 percent, and their moonshot worked. The Taurus was named to several “best” and “of the year” lists. Sales swelled to where the Taurus was America’s best-selling car from 1992 through 1997, where the Toyota Camry finally knocked it off its pedestal.
Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow for another one!