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Late-entry C-Max seeks a niche
Ford uses seating, diesels and future adaptability to make up for late arrival

Automotive News Europe / August 25, 2003

GRAZ, Austria -- Ford will use seating flexibility, electronic architecture and new diesels to make its C-Max stand out in the crowded compact minivan market.

Ford knows it is a late entrant in the segment pioneered by Renault seven years ago so it added some distinctive features to compete, such as a different rear-seating approach.

Other companies, especially archrival Opel, already have introduced models with flexible seating. Its Zafira has seven seats.

Ford's flexible seating setup actually reduces the number of seats from five to four.

By folding the middle seat into the back, the left and right rear seats can be slid backward and slightly toward the center to create more legroom. Ford marketers refer to this seating arrangement as "business class."

"We challenged the thinking that seven seats is the price of entry into the segment," said Christof Kellerwessel, C-Max launch manager. "Our research indicated two extra seats are not very desirable."

Ford is aiming the C-Max at young owners with active lifestyles who need plenty of cargo space but don't want to sacrifice driveability. The company's research shows that half of all potential C-Max customers do not have children.

Ford engineers say the C-Max has the most sophisticated electronic architecture of any car Ford has built in Europe. The C-Max has two buses (electronic circuits that connect microprocessors) connecting up to 25 modules. That compares to just a handful of modules on the current Focus.

"What it means is we have the opportunity to grow the car in functionality without changing the hardware," Kellerwessel said. For example, Ford could add a feature such as voice-controlled navigation in future models by writing new software.

The C-Max is the first car Ford has introduced from its C1 Technologies program in which Mazda and Volvo also participated. The Mazda 3 and Volvo S40, also from the same program, will debut at next month's IAA in Frankfurt. The C-Max is also the first Ford to use an engine from Ford's diesel joint venture with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen. It will have two Duratorq TDCi diesels: a 1.6-liter, 109hp version and a 2.0-liter, 136 hp version. And a 1.8-liter, 120hp gasoline engine will be offered.

The C-Max goes on sale in September, starting in Scandinavian markets, then Germany and the UK. Prices in Germany will range from E18,000 for a basic Ambiente to E23,000 for the top-of-the-line Ghia.

Ford plans to make 90,000 C-Maxes at its Saarlouis, Germany, plant before the end of this year and 170,000 in 2004.

Flexible seating and a diesel engine from the Ford-PSA joint venture help to aim the Ford C-Max at a different minivan buyer.
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