Bill Ford Jr. desperately needs a hit. As the car company his great-grandfather founded prepares for its 100th anniversary, things have rarely looked worse. Sales are skidding, profits are nonexistent and its reputation has been sullied by the Firestone debacle. But at this week's auto show, the scion CEO hopes to show there's gas left in the tank when he wheels out a new racy Mustang and brawny F-150 pickup. This beauty-and-the-beast duo account for a quarter of the company's sales. And if Bill Jr. wants the family firm to be around for another century, he's got to get both of them right.
The new Mustang doesn't go on sale for a year, but Ford is trying to build buzz. The retro fastback styling recalls the hot wheels Steve McQueen drove in 1968's "Bullitt.'' But Ford also hopes to attract the "Fast and the Furious" Gen Y crowd with a beefy 400-horsepower V-8 engine and edgier look. Its long, sharp snout is meant to evoke a shark on the attack. "It gives the feeling that this thing's going to bite you," says Ford chief designer J Mays.
Although it lacks the Mustang's boy-racer allure, the F-150 is Ford's franchise player. The pickup has been the top seller in America for 21 years. Says Bill Ford: "Nothing has been more central to our success." But rivals criticize the current soft and curvy F-150 as a "girly truck." So Mays went tough in his redesign of the 2004 F-150, modeling it on a Tonka truck. On the inside, though, the F-150's spacious cockpit is like a luxury SUV's. Tricked out with leather, DVD and white-oak dash, the price zooms from $18,000 to $37,000. "That's true Texas luxury," says one Ford exec. With problems as big as the Lone Star state, Ford can only hope its edgy new duo attract plenty of cowboys and car jockeys.