Ford unveils new outlook at auto show
John Gilbert - For the
Last Updated: Friday, January 02nd, 2004 05:35:15 PM
DETROIT, Mich. Ford Motor Company has come under a lot of fire the last couple of years for some considerable financial problems, although Ford executives have continued to justify the hefty expenses involved in the takeovers of Volvo, Jaguar and Range Rover, and an increased investment in Mazda. If the Ford folks have it figured right, those investments will start paying heavy dividends in the upcoming year.
When the North American International Auto Show opens this coming week in Detroit, Ford will unveil the Five Hundred sedan and the Freestyle sport-utility vehicle two entirely new and extremely important vehicles. Ford also will continue to promote its planned upsurge for the 2005 model year with the coming Futura sedan as well as the prominent toy department features the 2005 Mustang and the Ford GT. But the emphasis will be on the highest volume, mainstream cars.
It may seem that while Ford has continued to dominate the light truck/SUV market, its cars have fallen out of favor a bit. At the same time, its subsidiaries have flourished, particularly Mazda, with the Mazda6, RX-8 and Mazda3, and Volvo, which is following up the huge success of the XC-90 SUV with the flair and potential of a new compact S40 sedan. Those vehicles can run circles around midsize and compact sedans from Ford as well as most other companies, foreign and domestic.
So Ford is about to unveil its big secret, which is a brilliant reinforcement of Fords claim that its future is a global one, with at least a dozen new vehicles being created to make maximum use of those exceptional vehicles already being produced by Mazda and Volvo.
As of now, nobody is saying that Ford will discontinue the Taurus, that durable and trusty workhorse of the middle size sedan segment. Steve Lyons, the president of Ford Division, acknowledged that Taurus has been the company mainstay since 1985, but also that a changing marketplace means that one car cant do everything for a company any more.
"The Taurus is still a pretty good car, but its no longer the largest-selling car in the country," Lyons said. "Consumers have a lot more choices, and they want vehicles that are more versatile. The Five Hundred will be slightly larger than the Taurus, and a bit more expensive, while the Futura is slightly smaller than the Taurus."
Ford executives pull no punches when they proclaim the Five Hundred as the new flagship of Fords entire car operation. Make no mistake, the Five Hundred is a large sedan which will have a sister ship in the Mercury Montego, and both are based on the Volvo P2 platform, which is used in the S80, Volvos top-level sedan, which has world-class safety characteristics and a lightning-quick Haldex all-wheel-drive system.
The Freestyle SUV fits in right between the midsize Explorer, which continues to be the worlds top-selling SUV, and the Escape, which is Fords highly successful compact SUV. The Escape, incidentally, began life as a version of Mazdas Tribute, showing that this sort of collaboration can pay rich dividends. The Freestyle, meanwhile, is also off Volvos platform, taking the best stability and crashworthy elements from the XC-90.
The Five Hundred is a surprisingly tall vehicle, which Ford officials say will capture the high-seated asset of SUVs, as will its all-wheel drive capability. The Five Hundred is a foot shorter than the Crown Victoria, and 3 inches longer than the Taurus.
It will have Fords worldwide Duratec 3.0-liter V6, with 200 horsepower and with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Occupants will sit 4 inches higher than in other sedans, and it will have Pirelli tires on 18-inch wheels. Officials expect about 20 percent of buyers will choose all-wheel drive. The interior will feature eight cupholders and the largest trunk on the planet. At a media preview, Ford officials pointed out that the ability to hold four full-size golf bags is the standard for what makes a trunk spacious, then they popped the trunk on a Five Hundred and extracted eight large golf bags.
The rear seat folds down flat, and with the front passenger seat also folded down, articles as long as 10 feet can slide in through the trunk and fit, from bumper to instrument panel. With the seats up and sitable, the Five Hundred measures an inch shorter than the Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis sedans, but has double the rear legroom.
Safety is a major asset of the Five Hundred. The body structure is reinforced throughout, with frontal-impact and side-impact energy management and pillars and cross-members designed of high-strength steel. A 35-mile-per-hour frontal crash test left a Five Hundred perfect from the A-pillar back. The reason for the car being the safest ever built by Ford was that the platform was built by Volvo, known as the worlds vanguard of safety research.
The all-wheel drive unit is the Haldex system from Volvo, a pressure-based, torque-transfer unit that operates on front-wheel drive until the slightest tendency to slip is detected. Officials say that in 50 milliseconds about one-quarter turn of the wheel the torque can be transferred to the rear wheels to optimize traction. Along with the six-speed, a continuously variable transmission also will be available.
Technically, while sticking with its own 3.0 V6, Ford is offering a choice of two high-tech transmissions, either a 6-speed automatic or a continuously-variable automatic, which can adjust its ratio continuously.
The Montego is the first all-new sedan for Mercury in over 20 years, and its grille, headlights, taillights and interior differentiate it from the 500. It will share the use of the Ford Duratec 3.0 V6, with single overhead camshafts and 200 horsepower. My personal question is why Ford doesn?t go all the way, and install the higher-powered, dual-overhead-cam version of the Duratec which is the way Mazda uses the engine in the Mazda6.
Switching to the SUV side, Explorer sales are slightly down, but the smaller Escape and the larger Expedition are up. So Ford is inserting the Freestyle right between those two. Not only does it use the Volvo XC-90 platform, it has Volvos rollover sensor, and it even borrowed Jan Vulcan from Volvo in Sweden to serve as chief engineer. It has stadium style seats, with the second row higher than the front, and a third row seat that can house adults or kids, flip over to face rearward or fold flat into the floor.
The Freestyle also uses the 3.0-liter Duratec V6 with standard front-wheel-drive, and traction-control with all-wheel-drive optional. While smaller than the Explorer, the Freestyle actually has more cargo space than the Explorer or the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford officials are quick to point out. That space can be filled with seats, captains chairs or bench in the second row, which tumbles forward for access to the rear, third row, which folds flat.
Fords dependence on Mazda wont be as immediately obvious, but will start with the use of Mazdas sensational new four-cylinder, which will be installed in the 2005 Focus, and will lift it to a power level equal to the SVT special-edition Focus, while also making the car twice as environmentally clean as the ultra-low emission level standards.
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