Thursday, June 20, 2013
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Ford is getting back into the minivan game with a seven-passenger vehicle called C-Max and is releasing photos of the North American version for the first time today.
Ford abandoned the minivan business in the U.S. in 2006 as sales of the practical family haulers began to sink and Ford's Freestar failed to measure up to its competitors.
Now, Ford is betting that millennials -- the generation that grew up taking family vacations in minivans during the 1980s -- are looking for a smaller, more fuel-efficient alternative to today's super-sized minivans.
"C-Max provides young families with an aspirational alternative ... one that is affordable and highly fuel efficient," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development.
Ford's timing might be good: After years of declines, minivan sales are up 9.3% this year, about the same as 2010 industry sales.
Ford isn't saying how much the C-Max will cost, but will display it at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
Ford plans to heavily market the accessibility of a small minivan called the C-Max that heralds the automaker's return to the minivan segment for the first time since 2006.
The C-Max has two sliding side doors and a rear gate that can be unlocked and opened by activating sensors under the rear bumper.
At a media preview for journalists, Frank Davis, vice president for Ford of Europe, demonstrated the sensors by kicking the air underneath the rear bumper twice.
"With our hands-free liftgate, we simply walk up to the vehicle, and with a quick leg motion underneath the vehicle, we trigger two sensors," Davis said. "These sensors open the liftgate automatically."
The sensors will work if the vehicle's owner makes the motion and possesses the key fob.
Five seats are in the main cabin of the C-Max and two smaller, third-row seats can be folded into the floor.
"We think customers are going to love the C-Max's combined technology, convenience and functionality in such a tidy overall footprint," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development.
While Ford has sold the C-Max for several years in Europe, it hasn't sold a minivan in the U.S. since 2003.
Ford's decision to re-enter the minivan segment is part of a resurgence of investments by many automakers.
Minivan sales declined from 1.1 million in 2005 to 415,173 in 2009 as families moved to crossovers that offered as many seats as minivans but lacked the stodgy image.
But lately, minivan sales have stabilized, and automakers have taken notice. Through November, minivan sales increased 9.3% in the U.S., or slightly less than the 11.1% industry-wide sales increase.
This year, Toyota introduced a redesigned Sienna, Honda introduced a redesigned Odyssey and Nissan is launching its redesigned Quest.
"This is probably the most active minivan year we've had in a long time," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for automotive Web site Edmunds.com.
The C-Max is built on the same platform as Ford's redesigned Focus compact sedan.
That means Ford is betting that young, American families who are part of what marketers call the millennial generation are eager to embrace a smaller minivan.
"I think what they want is the functionality and versatility that the original minivans had," said J Mays, Ford's group vice president of design.
Ford will offer the C-Max with two engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 1.6-liter turbocharged and fuel-injected engine, called EcoBoost.
Ford executives said those engines will help Ford achieve class-leading fuel economy.
However, Ford declined to reveal its fuel economy projections.
Ford also is declining to say when it plans to start selling the vehicle, where it will build it or how much it will cost.
However, Ford previously said the C-Max would go on sale by the end of 2011. In Europe, the C-Max starts at 16,745 euros, or about $22,000.