In this overview, we examine Ford's history as an innovator of models like the Thunderbird, Edsel, Mustang and Taurus.
For more than 100 years now, Ford Motor Company has been selling mass-produced automobiles in the United States and around the globe. Known as one of the Big Three American manufacturers, Ford has attracted millions of loyal customers with a wide range of vehicles that offer considerable value. The automaker's trucks and SUVs have been especially popular. For decades, Ford's F-Series truck has been the best-selling vehicle in America.
The company was founded by Henry Ford in 1903. Ford dreamed of building a car for the masses, and that's precisely what he did, most notably with the immortal Model T of 1908-'27. The latter was bought by 16.5 million Americans during its 20-year lifespan and was affordable enough for Ford's own factory workers to purchase. Ford's early years were also distinguished by its introduction of the moving assembly line. It was the first to utilize this more cost-effective method of production, and its innovation became a mainstay of the manufacturing process.
Ford expanded into the luxury-car market with its purchase of Lincoln Motor Company in 1925. Over the next few years, the company broadened its focus even further by creating the Mercury division to produce mid-priced cars. By the late '30s, Ford had unveiled the stylish Lincoln Zephyr, introduced a low-priced V8 engine and built more than 25 million vehicles.
The 1950s saw the introduction of the legendary Thunderbird. Offering sleek styling and spirited performance wedded to available luxury features like power windows and a signal-seeking radio, the car was a huge hit. Another model of that decade, the Edsel, met with a somewhat less enthusiastic reception. In the wake of abysmal sales, the Edsel was discontinued just a few months into its third model year.
Ford regained its footing in the early 1960s with the introduction of the compact Falcon, a model that was warmly received by the public. By the middle of the decade the automaker had given enthusiasts something to cheer about with the launch of the sporty Mustang, a car that went on to become one of the biggest sellers of its day. Buyers adored the Mustang's low price, available powerful V8 engines and sporty styling. The Mustang even created a brand-new vehicle category: the pony car.
By the 1970s, Ford, like other domestic automakers, was starting to suffer the effects of changing consumer tastes and new government regulations. Many of its cars became shadows of their former selves. But the seeds of rebirth were planted in this decade. In 1979, the company acquired a stake in Mazda; this move would later aid Ford significantly in co-development projects. The company also emerged with a new mindset of global competitiveness.
By the mid-to-late '80s, Ford was showing new strength with its popular Escort and Taurus models while further expanding its empire with the purchase of the Aston Martin and Jaguar brands. Meanwhile, its full-size LTD sedan (later renamed the Crown Victoria) remained a staple of taxi companies and police forces throughout America.
Ford rode a wave of popularity in the 1990s, thanks in part to the huge success of its Explorer midsize SUV. The truck played a huge role in ushering in the era of the SUV. In 1999, Ford expanded its family yet again with the purchase of Volvo's car division, and, in 2000, it acquired Land Rover. For awhile, there was talk of Ford even taking General Motors' spot as the No. 1 automaker in the world.
But the new millennium initially saw a downturn for Ford. Increased competition, a continuing operating loss for Jaguar, legacy costs and a reliance on SUVs for profit took their toll. To compensate, the company sold Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo and introduced a wave of successful new products. Models like the F-150, Fusion, Fiesta, Focus, Flex and Mustang have allowed Ford to regain its health and standing as a very competitive manufacturer.