Ford Motor Co. is stepping back into a U.S. segment it abandoned back in 2007 -- minivans.
But Ford's plan for success this time involves the small, seven-passenger 2012 C-Max and exterior styling that attempts to hide one noticeable and sometimes unpopular minivan characteristic.
“Sliding doors carry a stigma, which is why the minivan has fallen” out of favor with some U.S. buyers, said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development. Also, gone is any minivan reference, replaced by "multi-activity vehicle." The unveiling took place today at the Frankfurt motor show.
The U.S. version of the Ford C-Max goes on sale in late 2011. It is one of 10 new vehicles that will be developed for North America on the automaker's re-engineered Ford Focus platform.
Ford's use of names is somewhat confusing, though. The five-and seven-passenger C-Max range for Europe was unveiled today in Frankfurt. While the five-passenger model, called C-Max in Europe, will not be sold in North America, the seven-passenger model, called Grand C-Max in Europe, will be sold in North America as the C-Max.
Ford has not said where the U.S. version will be assembled. Insiders say the U.S. model likely will be assembled at Ford's plant in Wayne, Mich.
The exterior styling for the seven-passenger model has a trapezoidal lower grille, rising beltline and sculpted side surfaces. The vehicle lacks the flat sides that make some minivans resemble “refrigerators on wheels,” said Kuzak.
The seven-passenger model has the look of a sleek, aerodynamic wagon. The track for the sliding doors is hidden in the exterior design's “character line, a very strong undercut line” that rises as it flows to the end of the vehicle. “It is really hard to pick up the track for the sliding door.”
Kuzak spoke Monday at a Ford preview at the automaker's design center in Dearborn, Mich.
Inside, the C-Max and Grand C-Max are unmistakably minivan. The interior has three-row seating. The seats in the second and third rows fold flat into the floor. A baby stroller can be stored behind the third-row seat.
The model for the U.S. market will offer such up-market features as blind spot detection, a power tailgate and a semi-automatic parallel parking system. The vehicle will be powered by a four-cylinder engine.
Ford's first minivan was the rear-wheel-drive Aerostar, offered from 1985 to 1995. It introduced the front-drive Windstar in 1995 and later re-engineered the vehicle and changed its name to Freestar before abandoning the segment in 2007.