Not their finest hour: Ford Flex

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at the Ford Flex
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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November 20, 2016
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Recently, there were news reports quoting Canadian auto union Unifor, pointing to the possibility of the Ford Flex SUV being killed in four years. Well, this may not come as a shock to those who have been following the sales performance of the people mover over the years. But, most will agree that it’s sad and disappointing to see a bold venture that attempted to create a whole new niche in the SUV market not achieve the kind of success it probably should have.

When it was unveiled at the 2007 New York International Auto Show, the Flex created a flutter of excitement in the industry. At a time when most manufacturers were frantically making their entry into the lucrative SUV market by following a set template, here was a model that stood apart from the crowd. Penned by Peter Horbury, who was executive design director of Ford at the time, the Flex evoked memories of the Woodie designs, which were in vogue from the Thirties to the Sixties with distinctive grooves on its doors and tailgate. Its low-slung stance, retro styling cues, and exceptionally wide and long body-style reminiscent of the Mini made for a refreshing change from the other SUVs on the market then. And many shared Ford’s confidence that the Flex would be as revolutionary a model as the Mini and that it would go on to be a huge success.

But it didn’t. Initially, the Flex did attract buyers looking for a roomy family vehicle at an affordable price. However, the initial enthusiasm waned and sales never caught on as Ford had expected. Persisting without a major update for too long has been cited as one of the main reasons for the Flex’s failure, with many potential buyers choosing the more frequently updated Explorer over it as it also provided an element of ruggedness and off-road capabilities that the Flex lacked. A facelift in 2013 proved too little too late, and recalls for faulty power steering systems and power transfer units only added to its woes. Looking at the dismal sales figures, a lifeline until 2020 seems a bit of a stretch.