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Ford's Big Plans, Toyota's Big Problem

Charles Krome
by Charles Krome
September 15, 2009

Today it's time to catch up on a few earlier Krome on Cars stories, starting with some Ford news out of the Frankfurt Motor Show.

I had mentioned in a previous article (Vehicle Trends: Timing is Everything) that the Blue Oval was introducing the new C-MAX at Frankfurt, and that this was a miniature minivan that could perhaps compete against the MAZDA5 here in the U.S. '” except for the fact that the Ford only sits five while the Mazda's interior packaging allowed for three rows of seating and the possibility of cramming six people inside.

Well, now that the Frankfurt show is finally open, we've found out that the folks at Ford are going one better on the Mazda, courtesy of the Grand C-MAX (pictured). The Grand C-MAX addresses the seat deficit with the potential to hold either seven occupants in a 2+3+2 layout or, thanks to some engineering magic, six people in a 2+2+2 setup.

The way it works is that the middle seat in the middle row can be folded under one of the outboard seats to create a pass-through space to the final row. Plus, both the second and third seats can be folded away '” all together or individually '” to create ye olde flat load floor in a variety of different configurations.

Now, this may seem merely like minivan 2.0, and in a sense it is, but the difference here is the size. Ford is currently saying the Grand C-MAX will have "compact exterior dimensions," but, because my invitation to Frankfurt was lost in the mail, I wasn't able to travel to Germany to actually measure it. However, let's say the production model ends up being just a bit bigger than the MAZDA5, which is 181.5 inches long; perhaps the Ford will come in at 185 inches. That's almost a foot-and-a-half shorter than the the Chrysler Town & Country.

On the fuel economy front, well, the current generation C-MAX gets from about 35-40 mpg combined over in Europe, depending on the engine. And, speaking of engines, Ford's Frankfurt news included the fact that there will actually be two four-cylinder EcoBoost engines on the horizon, the already-announced 2-liter and an even smaller 1.6-liter powerplant, both of which will see service in the C-MAX/Grand C-MAX lineup.

The net result should be a U.S. Grand C-MAX that achieves significantly better mileage figures than the current crop of full-size minivans, the best of which '” the Town & Country/Dodge Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Volkswagen Routan '” achieve 20 mpg combined.

When you consider the Grand C-MAX does all of this while maintaining a very un-minivanish silhouette, this looks like it should be another winner for Ford when it arrives here in 2011.

Ford also clarified its plans for its global C-car platform, on which the C-MAX vehicles and the next Focus will be built. According to the latest news, the new platform will "underpin up to 10 models and account for more than 2 million cars annually by 2012" and be "manufactured in Europe, Asia and North America." This is compared to the current situation, which sees the Blue Oval using three distinct platforms for its current generation of compact cars, which now sell about 1 million units globally. This will mean huge savings for the company across the board and should keep sticker prices on the compact side as well.

As for the other Krome on Cars update, it has to do with the Toyota lawsuit I first covered at the end of August (Global Troubles Mount for Toyota). Readers may recall that a former Toyota lawyer who was involved in defending the company in product-liability cases was accusing Toyota of hiding incriminating evidence about the safety of its cars during rollover accidents.

That specific case continues to move along, and now it's got company. Litigation has begun in Texas to re-open a number of safety suits there against Toyota that had been previously settled. According to the Marshall News Messenger, a local Texas paper, this suit will "involve 30 plaintiffs who were themselves injured or had family members injured or killed in approximately 15 accidents involving Toyota vehicles."

Significantly, the Texas suit is being brought under federal racketeering laws (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, aka the RICO Act), which, among other things, allow plaintiffs to sue for triple damages, prescribes penalties of up to 20 years in prison for each racketeering count and gives judges the opportunity to seize a defendant's assets before trial.

Now, I know Toyota's innocent until proven guilty, but I also know that all the Prius sales in the world aren't going to make up for this mess if it's true.


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