Believe it or not, the original Ford Taurus was one of the most groundbreaking American cars ever built. Introduced for 1986, the car’s streamlined style, ingenious ergonomics, and class-leading quality set it miles apart from the chrome-bumpered, hard-edged, three-box sedans of the era and ushered in an entirely new way of styling for American cars.
By 1991, Ford had sold more than 2 million units, and it sat comfortably as the best-selling car in America until 1997. Since then, it was relegated to also-ran status, spent a few years out of production, and today shares the old Crown Victoria’s duties as both Ford’s range-topping sedan and police fleet vehicle.
But this week, Ford introduced an all-new Taurus, and it hopes to regain some of that old sales magic — in the Chinese market.
Unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show, the new sedan is no longer a ground-breaking sedan for the American masses. According to Ford, the Taurus “is a new premium sedan for discerning Chinese business customers.” Following the growing trend of designing American cars for the Chinese market, the new Taurus is bigger, more spacious, and, according to Chairman of for China John Lawler, proof that the company has “a clear understanding of what Chinese customers in this segment want.”
The new Taurus is a key player in Ford’s plan for growth in the world’s largest auto market. It’s the first full-size car the company has offered in China, and it will be manufactured at its new $760 million plant in Hangzhau.
The company has been playing catch-up with General Motors, which just announced a $16 billion plan to invest in 40 new vehicles for the Chinese market by 2020. With the new Taurus (and the recently unveiled Lincoln Continental), Ford is boldly staking its claim in China’s lucrative luxury market and taking on heavy hitters like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and an expanding Cadillac.
Unlike the American market, luxury car sales are a massive segment in China, and of the 2 million luxury vehicles projected to sell there in 2015, a majority of them will be full-size rear-wheel-drive cruisers, exactly the type of car the Taurus helped render obsolete in America 30 years ago, and what Ford hopes it can compete with today.
Overall, the new Taurus seems to have more in common with Cadillac’s new CT6 than it does with its fleet-sales past. For the first time in the nameplate’s history, Ford is using words like “elegance and “sophistication” in selling the once-ubiquitous car. Outside, the Taurus has firmly gone from mid- to full-size.
Its strong belt and rooflines reference the current model, but its front and rear fascias borrow heavily from the midsize Fusion sedan, especially its Aston Martin-like grille. Performance numbers haven’t been released yet, but the car will be powered by a 325-horsepower EcoBoost V6, which should deliver more than enough power.
Like most luxury sedans aimed at the Chinese market, the Taurus is really meant to be experienced from the back seats. Rear occupants are treated to a leather-lined interior with a separate climate control system, reclining seats with a massage function, and tasteful wood and chrome accents. Unsurprisingly, this opulence comes at a very un-Ford price. According to China Car News, the Taurus will start at around 300,000 yuan, or nearly $49,000.
While Ford is planning on unveiling the U.S.-spec Taurus later this year, don’t expect a near-$50,000 buy-in for the American cars. While it’s possible some of the Chinese luxury will carry over on a range-topping version, its unlikely that Ford will want to directly compete with its Lincoln brand for luxury sales. Mechanically or stylistically, the Americanized Taurus probably won’t differ much from its Chinese counterpart. Under the company’s “One Ford” program, it’s been moving from market-specific models to a competitive worldwide lineup, and the new Taurus should fit in nicely.
Three decades since it changed the game, Ford hopes it has enough magic left in the Taurus name to do it again. The new Ford probably won’t redefine the modern sedan like it once did, but it could very well redefine the nameplate for millions of buyers around the world.