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Now the Rest of the Story

Date 05/6/08

with Don's permission, thank you Don.

Some of you may have caught wind of something going on in the Chicago area recently.

Well, it has happened, and here is a quick review:

Some weeks ago I was contacted by a representative at Ford about an upcoming Focus group in Chicagoland about the next generation Taurus.

They wanted specific input and information from SHO enthusiasts.

I was asked to give them about a dozen names of people from the LOCAL area (there are good reasons for this I will go into later) for this focus group.

I was asked to keep it quiet till after the event and asked those that I contacted to do the same, and for the most part, that was accomplished. The one thread that was on SHOforum about this, was not anything specific, and didn't really cause any problems, but it was deleted just to be sure. So if you saw that and wondered what it was about, that is what happened.

Last night (Monday, 5th of May) a dozen SHO enthusiasts met at a hotel in Schaumburg for a 2+ hour focus group session. Here is what we did NOT see: We saw NO prototypes. we saw NO drawings, we saw NO parts of any new car, the entire session was video taped.

Here is what we DID see: A Chrysler 300, A dodge Charger and an Chevy Impala, all in the same shade of silver with all identifying marks taped over.

Here is what we did:

We sat at a table across from a very friendly and skilled interviewer that led a fairly free flowing exchange of information. We were asked about our own history with the SHO, we were asked about what we liked about the SHO, and didn't like, what made a SHO, a SHO, and also what we might like to see in any future SHO or Ford sedan. After a while, several representatives of the new Taurus program came into the room and we gathered around the cars assembled. When asked which one appealed to us, almost all said the Charger. This seemed to surprise the interviewer since we claimed "stealth" as one of the main factors attracting us to the SHO. But I think we answered that by several of us stating that although we can appreciate the Charger in that group of three, it is maybe too up front for what we would like to see in the SHO. Also, great styling need not be so "in your face" as the Charger.

The Ford staff assembled were given a chance to ask us specific questions about their individual area of expertise, as in wheels, seats, paint colors etc.

Then we were let loose on the assembled Ford people to just talk and mingle. In talking with one rep, he was floored that virtually every one of us put ROAD/ TRACK performance over straight line/drag performance. He had somehow gotten the opinion that the original SHO was all about the drags. Glad we caught that one. Drags are fun, but track days and overall handling is much more important.

Of course engines and drivelines were discussed, and here the group was less of a single mind, with likes running from 400+ hp twin turbo revvers, to 5.4L torque monsters with and without blowers! I commented that with $4 a gallon gas soon to be reality, maybe something in the 280-300 hp range with GREAT handling, style and quality and decent MPG would be relevant. I think most of us agreed that gimmicks were less desired over things like great brakes, suspension, gauges, seats (gen 1 and II style seats with bolsters were a big request) and a unique engine to the SHO at least in the Taurus/Sable line were high points and things like "I-Drive" GPS and other tech things were down on the list. Trying to keep weight down was also a big point with most people. Oddly, we left out a big desire of the previous early focus groups, a hand emergency brake. Maybe it isn't important anymore?

Man I can sympathize with anyone trying to create a new car these days...."Hey, give us luxury ride, Lotus handling, Ford GT performance, and OH, 40+ mpg, room for five and luggage, make it stand out, and be something police won't see....and under $30 grand would be great!" LOL

Some suggested maybe a two tier car with the "nice" version for more average buyers, and a lighter, lower content "performance" version for the gung ho, like most of us!

Most everyone wanted a car with "three pedals" but if an auto was part of it, steering wheel buttons or paddles are less important than a good shifter and proper programming for quick up and downshifts when called for, and maybe even blipping the throttle on manual downshifts.

The FWD, AWD, RWD question came up, and I think most wanted RWD, with AWD as the second option, but a few would be just as happy with FWD as in the past for safety and also cost.

Defeatable Stability/traction control was another big request, as was a factory accessory, modification parts program with actual performance parts, suspension parts etc available at dealers or through Ford, and included in the factory warranty.

Although I got my own points, I enjoyed sitting back and watching this VERY diverse group of young, old, tall, short, skinny, heavy etc people from all walks of life seem VERY together on most points. I think it is safe to say we were a surprise and I think a good surprise to the Ford people.

It was nice to be included, and I think if any new Ford performance sedan is made, it will be a better car for this session. I need to repeat that this was pretty much a one-way discussion and we learned almost nothing about the new Taurus, but I like the people we met, and have high hopes they will catch the fever and bring a stunning car like the original 86 Taurus to market with a follow-up car with the appeal of the original SHO.

Now about why only people from the Chicago area? Well, they usually keep groups for this purpose to 8 people, but they invite more and if only 8 or so show up, great. If more show up, they pay the modest but nice (and appreciated) participation fee and send some of them home. Thus people from WAY out of the area were not called since if they were
asked to go home after a very long drive or flight, there could be some angry people. I didn't know it till almost the day before, but in our case they let ALL the SHO folk attend that were actually invited, making it a somewhat larger group, a little harder to manage, but we were a specific group, not just random people.

I contacted people for invites based on some people I knew well, and on suggestions from those people and others that could not attend. I think we got all of our 'sub' groups well represented, and the SHO community and aftermarket were well covered also. All people were actually invited by the research firm, not by me.

I was given a specific request and did my very best to be fair and equal and invite people that would give a good cross section of enthusiast, mechanic, pro driver, racer, average driver/enthusiast, etc. If you were not invited, please don't feel slighted. I could not ask everyone I really wanted to be there, if that was the case, we would have had a focus group of more than 1000! I am sure for almost everyone out there that wasn't invited, one of your friends or people, that think like you, WAS invited.

So that was the big deal, and we may or may not see a SHO badged car in the near future, but if there is any sort of "performance" Taurus or Ford Performance sedan coming, then you can rest assured that this group had at least a small part in making it a little better and more desirable to the enthusiast.

My thanks to Ford and the marketing people for inviting us to participate, and hope they will avail themselves of this rather unique resource (our SHO community) in the future.

Don Mallinson
SHO Club


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