The Ford Motor Company has designed and manufactured many vehicles over the decades. If you had to pick the top vehicles that changed the company and didn’t select the Ford Taurus, you wouldn’t be alone. Most people would list the Model T, the F-series trucks, the Mustang, and maybe the Thunderbird. But if you looked back in time for a car that boosted Ford’s bottom line and changed the way the company produced its vehicles, you would come up with the Taurus. The Taurus is Ford’s quiet hero.
The Taurus was the right car at the right time. The year the Taurus debuted, 1986, was the first time since 1924 that Ford Motor Company’s pretax earnings exceeded those of General Motors. As a result of the demand for the new Taurus and the company’s other vehicles, Ford’s stock price rose by 76 percent.
The Taurus did more than add to Ford’s coffers though, it also changed the way the automobile manufacturer produced its cars. The launch of the Taurus sent rival automotive manufacturers back to the drawing boards to create vehicles that could compete with this amazing new addition to the market.
When Ford began the design process for the Taurus it took a different approach than it had used in the past. Before the Taurus, American automotive manufactures told buyers what they wanted in a vehicle and then showed buyers how the cars produced were just what they wanted.
Everything changed with the Taurus. Ford assembled what it called “Team Taurus” for this vehicle. New planning techniques and program self-diagnosis strategies were put in place, and every member of Team Taurus “owned” the vehicle not just their vehicle part or system. Team Taurus wasn’t just a name, it was a mindset built on the statistical process control ideas of W. Edwards Deming, and Ford backed this new ideology with an unheard of 3.5 billion dollar research and development budget.
With Team Taurus, input into the design process didn’t just come from engineers. Assembly line workers and focus groups were invited to planning meetings. Hundreds of competitive brand cars were ripped apart and reverse engineered to find the best practices for each car part. The Taurus was a truly reimagined vehicle.
Ford’s gamble paid off, and the Taurus is the fifth best-selling nameplate in Ford’s history. In 1986 Motor Trend magazine named the Taurus “Car of the Year,” and Car and Driver put the Taurus on its “10 Best” list.
First Generation (1986-1991)
As soon as the Taurus debuted in 1985 for the 1986 model year, the industry was amazed by the new vehicle hitting the market. Team Taurus had taken the best characteristics of European cars and distilled them into a car that American families could afford.
The aerodynamic body design, available in either a sedan or a wagon, had a futuristic and European flair that was fuel-efficient and made a big impact when compared to the existing angular and boxy cars on the road. Instead of a grille, the front of the vehicle sports a smooth grille-less nose with the Ford logo prominently placed.
The Taurus’ front-wheel drive layout was lighter than previous rear-wheel designs, resulting in increased fuel economy. Buyers could opt for either a 3.0-liter V6 engine or an inline four-cylinder engine paired with either a manual or automatic transmission.
The interior of the Taurus incorporated innovation at a level previously unseen. The dashboard curved to create a cockpit experience and placed the controls within reach of the driver. In addition, the controls were designed to be identified by touch so that drivers wouldn’t have to take their eyes off the road.
By the end of the first generation of Taurus in 1991 over two-million units had been sold.
Second Generation (1992-1995)
The second generation Taurus kept its successful style while its exterior body panels were updated and the roofline was given a more rounded silhouette. The trunk was redesigned, and a spoiler was added to make the car even more aerodynamic. The front nose kept its “bottom breather” design, but the nose now flowed into the front bumper, and both headlights and taillights were refreshed to work with the updated body design. The length of the vehicle increased by more than 3 inches in the sedan and over an inch in the wagon. The manual transmission option was dropped as well as the inline four-cylinder engine.
It was important to the engineers and designers that the Taurus keep its user-friendly dashboard with easy to reach controls. Not only were they were successful in doing so, but they also added integrated armrests with window and lock controls. These controls illuminated when the headlights turned on for easy night identification. An optional passenger-side airbag was integrated into the dashboard, the first of its kind. The 1994 Taurus became the first mid-size sedan with dual front airbags as standard equipment.
There were three trim levels for the second generation Taurus – L, GL, and LX – however, the L trim level was discontinued after 1992 due to disappointing sales. All sedan models came with an automatic transmission and the 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 engine with 140 horsepower as a standard option except for the LX wagon, which came with a 3.8-liter Essex V6 engine which was an optional engine for the other trims.
The Taurus took the title of “Best-Selling Car in America” from 1992 through 1995.
Third Generation (1996-1999)
A controversial exterior design change for the Taurus was the decision to make the rear window in the shape of an oval to mimic the Ford emblem. Some buyers liked the change knowing that this generation Taurus stood out from the others. Unfortunately, most buyers hated the change, and after the first year of production, the Taurus lost its best-selling sedan status to the Toyota Camry.
The use of ovals continued in the interior of the vehicle with an oval-shaped console on the dashboard. Five passenger versions of the car were designed with bucket seats and a floor shifter and center console. For six-passenger versions of the car, the center seat cushion could flip up to allow an additional front passenger or flip-down and be used as a center console for the front passengers.
Taurus NASCAR Wins
In 1998 the Taurus replaced the Thunderbird, which had raced for Ford since 1978, as the Ford NASCAR vehicle. This marked the first time that a four-door car was approved for competition. The 1998 Las Vegas 400 was the inaugural running of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and Ford took nine of the top 10 spots. The Ford racing teams were so successful that NASCAR made a rule requiring each competing Ford Taurus to change its spoiler so there would be less downforce on the car as compared to the other teams’ cars. The Taurus with Dale Jarrett as its driver won the Winston Cup championship in 1999, and Greg Biffle drove the Taurus to victory in the Busch Series in 2002.
Fourth Generation (2000-2007)
Ford changed the controversial third generation body styling to a more subdued and angular design when it debuted the fourth generation Taurus. The roof was raised to increase passenger headroom, and the trunk hood no longer sloped down which gave the trunk more cargo space. The nose of the car now sported a grill with the Ford logo, and the turn signals were integrated into the headlights.
The interior cabin was redesigned as well. The dashboard became more linear and the integrated control panel was enlarged and placed in the center of the dashboard. Ford included its new “Advanced Personal Safety System” in the Taurus which detected the driver and passenger’s positions and seatbelt usage at the time of impact and inflated the airbags as needed in order to prevent airbag-related injuries. Additional safety items with this Taurus included side airbags and a trunk release mounted inside the trunk that glowed in the dark.
There were four trim levels for this Taurus – LX, SE, SES, and SEL – until the LX and SES trims were dropped in 2005. The top trim, SEL, had a number of upgrades to make it more upscale including a redesigned dash, woodgrain trim, and more appealing wheels. The LX, SE, and SES trims came with the 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 engine which produced 155 horsepower. Purchasers of the SES trim could opt for the 3.0-liter Duratec V6 engine that produced 200 horsepower and came standard on the SEL trim.
Centennial Edition Taurus
In 2003, Ford created a special Taurus to celebrate Ford’s 100th anniversary, the Centennial Edition Taurus. In addition to the many extra features, the car came with a leather jacket that said “Ford: 100 Years”, a similar watch, a special leather case for the owner’s manual and a letter from William Clay Ford, Jr.
Ford decided to discontinue the entire Taurus line after the Taurus was no longer the best-selling car in America and was in fourth place behind the Accord, Camry, and Altima. The last Taurus rolled off the assembly line on October 27, 2006, and into the hands of S. Truett Cathy, the owner of Chick-fil-A whose original restaurant was located across the street from the Ford Atlanta plant. Ford replaced the Taurus sedan with the Ford Five Hundred and Ford Fusion sedans and replaced the Taurus wagon with the Ford Freestyle, a crossover SUV.
Welcome Back Taurus
Ford was criticized for killing a once successful nameplate in search of the next awe-inspiring vehicle. When Ford CEO Alan Mulally took the corporate reigns he decided to bring the Taurus back. The replacement for the Taurus, the Five Hundred, wasn’t doing well in the marketplace. Mulally put the Five Hundred back under the established Taurus nameplate so that the car could benefit from the well-established name recognition and brand name appeal.
Fifth Generation (2008-2009)
The Taurus became the flagship sedan for Ford when it was brought back and the Ford Crown Victoria was withdrawn from retail sales in 2008. Taurus kept its two body styles. The sedan body style came in either the Taurus sedan or the Taurus X. The previous wagon body style became the redesigned Freestyle Crossover SUV.
When the Five Hundred was modified into the fifth generation Taurus, the nose was given a three-bar grille with the Ford logo, a roof-mounted antenna was added, and the headlights, taillights, and fog lights were revised. The Taurus was the first Ford vehicle to come with standard side airbags. Increased sound absorption measures were included that improved the vehicle’s sound-deadening efficiency by 20 percent.
The interior of the fifth generation was the same as the Five Hundred with a few changes. The radio faceplate and center console were modified. The wiper switch was moved to the right signal stalk so that it matched the design of every Taurus since 1986, and the car received a new shifter and steering wheel design. Ford’s SYNC system became available with this generation Taurus allowing passengers to use voice commands and connect their cell phones and MP3 players to the car.
The fifth generation Taurus featured an improved engine with 30 percent more power—the 3.5 liter Duratec 35 V6 with 263 horsepower. The car also sported the new 6-speed automatic transmission which was jointly developed with General Motors.
In 2008 the Taurus was awarded the Top Safety Pick rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a five-star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the highest safety rating given.
The Taurus SHO, which stands for super high output, was introduced in 1989 and produced for model years 1989 to 1999 and again for model years 2010 to 2019. The same team that produced the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra worked on the Taurus SHO. This car provided high-performance sedan thrills similar to the BMW M5 at an affordable price. The Taurus SHO was initially created as a limited production model, but the car was so popular, 15,519 cars sold in its first year, that Ford decided to put it into regular production.
It’s the engine under the hood that made the first generation Taurus SHO so special. The Yamaha V6 engine with 200 horsepower and a 5-speed manual transmission could accelerate the car from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Through the generations the Taurus SHO kept its high-performance qualities. The fourth generation Taurus SHO featured a 3.5 liter direct-injected twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine with 365 horsepower combined with a 6F55 six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that could switch to manual mode with steering wheel paddle shifters. With this combination the car accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
When consumers shifted their buying power to SUVs and cross-over vehicles, even the high-performance Taurus SHO couldn’t keep up its sales numbers. The last Taurus SHO was produced in 2019.
Sixth Generation (2010-2019)
The sixth generation Taurus is a full-size car, the longest and heaviest sedan sold under the Ford brand. This generation marked the first time that the Taurus was produced without a Mercury Sable counterpart.
Prior to the launch of the sixth generation Taurus, Ford used its website to show how the Taurus outperformed other luxury sedans. The interior was quieter than the Acura RL, and the Taurus had a blind spot detection system not available with the Infiniti M45x. In straight-line acceleration the Taurus SHO was faster than the Audi A6 4.2 Quattro, and the paint on the Taurus was more resistant to chipping than the Lexus LS460.
Ford changed its production quotas for this generation Taurus and estimated a target of 50,000 to 75,000 cars per year instead of the hundreds of thousands produced each year in the 1990s. Ford hoped to preserve the resale value of the car by not selling this vehicle as a corporate fleet vehicle.
As customer interest moved from sedans to SUVs, Ford moved its focus from the Taurus line. In 2009 Ford ceased production of the Taurus X, and on March 1, 2019, the final Taurus built in the United States exited the Chicago assembly line. After 34 years, the Taurus nameplate completed its run in North America.
Seventh Generation (2016-Present)
While the sixth generation concluded with the end of Taurus production in North America, Ford is a global company. The seventh generation Taurus was jointly developed by Changan Ford and Ford of Australia. The vehicle is produced in the Hangzhou facility for the Chinese market. The seventh generation Taurus is not exported, and there are no plans to do so.
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