Only weeks ago newspapers reported that Ford Motor Company had lost its number two spot to rival Japanese automaker Toyota — the shot heard across the automotive world. While these figures are now in dispute, it’s quite clear that the Big Three is no longer an American only club.

American automakers produce inferior products in the same categories dominated by Japanese, German, and Korean brands. Detroit’s only saving grace is the pick-up and the ultra large SUV, without which General Motors would surely find itself hanging out with Chrysler, who lost it’s key to the Big Three bathroom a long time ago.

If Ford expects to regain and hold it’s honorable place in the industry then it must at least show the same level of progress as it’s competitors. Instead it would seem that design is being passed off as innovation. Nothing but masks of steal and machinery.

At this years North American International Auto Show, Ford promised a “product revolution of epic proportions” with no less than five vehicles for 2005. Three are merely redesigns of current models. Of the two that are left, one is for show, the other for dough.

The Ford GT was brought back from retirement to attract (I assume) car collectors and people with a small penis. The new GT is visually stunning but we’ve seen this already — back in 1966.

Automotive design has come along way from the 1960’s yet Ford has simply cloned a former model. I can’t imagine how many design students and auto engineers could have come up with something better. Not in the manner that the Corvette and Thunderbird was massacred in the 1970’s and 80’s but at least put some tail fins on the damn thing, or use a different color racing stripe.

It’s 2005 — time to move on and come up with new ideas. Where is the innovation? And why are we still using tires?

The new Ford Five Hundred is a mid-size sedan that Slate magazine calls, “[the] car that’s supposed to save ford.” With such an important job the Five Hundred should be quite a head turner. Instead it’s a Taurus crammed into a package that is a complete visual knock-off of the Audi A4 and Volkswagen Passat.

This is not by accident. In 1997, Ford hired auto designer J Mays, who designed vehicles for Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen — where he designed the new VW Bug. Personally I like the look of this car but when comparing the list of features and quality of the Five Hundred next to an Audi or Volkswagen, it fails to compete. This model will only serve those people who feel the need to support American manufacturing but want to drive a car that looks more sophisticated than their cousin’s Pontiac Grand Prix.

I’m surprised that Mr. Mays would simply port an existing design with the Five Hundred. The new Beetle is a modern reflection of it’s predecessor, not a copy. A contemporary nod to nostalgia. With the portfolio that J has, why use a cookie cutter?

I expect that a company with billions of dollars at it’s command should constantly discover new and better ways to live. Apple has done this twice with the invention of the Macintosh and iPod. So why is it that our largest corporations can not find the thrill and necessity of innovation as they once did during the first decades of the industry? Why are we being shoveled crap that’s made to look like something new?

When the Big Three is gone and waxing poetic about the salad days of their by gone monopoly I won’t shed a tear or even give it a second thought. Until they can get off their complacency, I’ll keep driving my Volkswagen, the perfect package of form and function — design and innovation.