By Lou Ann Hammond, Mon, 31 Jan 2005 08:00:00 PDT
It's always amazing to me how petty some groups can be. Ford Motor Co. has been producing vehicles in Chicago since 1914. Just recently Ford invested over $800 million dollars to have the Chicago Assembly Plant (CAP) become Ford's first flexible manufacturing system. This one plant is capable of building eight models on two platforms.
Ford recently brought journalists to Chicago to drive the new Ford Five Hundred and Ford Freestyle that are being built in said moving assembly line. We were supposed to walk a couple of blocks to a restaurant. Ford had asked the Mayor of Chicago if they would mind if Ford put a couple banners on the sidewalk to show the journalists the way to the restaurant. You know, a couple triangles with a Ford logo pointing the way. No problem, says Richard M Daley, the Mayor of Chicago. It was a local newspaper that made a big deal of Ford's marketing, without paying for it. Come on guys, get a life.
Chicago is lucky to have Ford not just continue their factory plant there, but to expand it from 640,000 square feet to 2.8 million square feet on 103 acres. We won't even go into the fact that Ford is one of three manufacturers that still use Unions, while all the other Manufacturers don't and have no plans to use Unions. Why is this such a big deal? Because for every one job lost in Manufacturing, according to Bill Ford himself, seven jobs are lost downstream. Conversely, every manufacturing job Ford keeps in Chicago are seven more jobs Chicago, and America, keeps in the United States. So, Mr. Newspaper, stop whining about a couple dollars you thought you should get and look at the longer term effect - as in thank someone you've got a job.
This is the newest baby from the flexible manufacturing system. It is hoped to be the flagship of Ford sedans as it is taking the place of the Ford Taurus. Ford has made this assembly line so flexible the Ford Five Hundred can metamorphose from a four door sedan, through its sun salutation and cat pose, into a minivan called the Ford Freestyle. The platform is the same, the names/bodies have been changed to protect the innocent.
A great idea by Ford was utilizing what the world knows as the safest car in the world, yes the Volvo architecture. Ford has owned Volvo since 1999, but is just starting to really capitalize on some of the patents for safety that Volvo is known for. Ford incorporated the body structure and safety technology from Volvo, bringing the Swedish engineers themselves over to impart their knowledge. The challenge was for the designers, in building a body that fit the Volvo chassis.
I'm not a real fan of autocross. It's usually just a case of one Y-chromosome trying to beat the other Y-chromosomes by one second. Ford made it a little more interesting by bringing in the competition, the Chrysler 300C. Compared to the Ford Five Hundred, the Chrysler 300C looks like a bulldog. It's huge. Till you get in the 2005 Ford Five Hundred. That is where the Five Hundred excels. One look at the interior and you realize where Ford put their largess. The trunk is , as President Jim Padilla says, "Large enough that the Sopranos could fit five dead bodies." None were found. If you want more cargo space you can fold down the back seats.
As I rode along in the passenger seat I did my critic that I call "intimate seating". It's when I can put my knee under me and my elbow on the center console and chat with my husband. I inevitably put my foot on the top of the open space on the door that holds all the maps and extraneous junk. Yick, too thin. Cuts through the foot that has slipped out of its shoe in my intimate seating. One of the PR guys laughed at me, "what are you doing putting your foot on the door? No one does that." Then he confessed that his girlfriend tried to, but he nixed the idea. Women do put their feet on the door. If they're really comfortable they put their feet on the dash. It makes us feel young and sexy and young. Don't make us stop doing that. Don't want us to stop doing that.
On a more universal level the low-end torque is a little wanting. This is not a particularly big problem as the low-end torque picks up by the time one is passing cars, but if you're into that instant thrust off the race line you'll notice it. The guys on the autocross did.
Each is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 Duratec 30, which pounds out 203 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. This is complimented with the fuel saving Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). CVT is a belt and pulley technique that offers more gear ratios than any automatic step transmission. This is done by replacing gears with two-piece pulleys connected by a chain loop that produces multiple drive ratios. Best part is that it gives you a better fuel economy.
Ford is hoping the Five Hundred does what it did with the 1957 Fairlane. Ford used the Five Hundred designation on the top of the line Fairlane model and it catapulted the sales to overtake Chevrolet's sales.
2005 Ford Five Hundred SE $22,145; 2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL $24,145; 2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited $26,145