Monday, January 14, 2008

Ford sees potential in full-size sedans

DETROIT -- Reports of the death of the big, rear-wheel drive car have been greatly exaggerated, a senior Ford official said yesterday.
Small, front-wheel drive cars are the way of the future for Ford, as they are with all automakers, but the big, rear-wheelers may still have a role, said Mark Fields, president of the Americas for Ford Motor Co.
But he stopped short of saying that's good news for the Ford of Canada St. Thomas assembly plant, where three large, rear-wheel drive cars are assembled.
"We are studying rear-wheel drives very carefully. We feel it is important and gives us a number of options in how we position and design our vehicles," Fields said.
"There is a market, there will continue to be one . . . especially in the luxury market . . . but (for St.Thomas) there may be no significance in us studying rear-wheel drive."
The St. Thomas plant builds the Grand Marquis, Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car. Ford has made a commitment to those models until 2010, but after that the plant's future is uncertain.
While Canadian Auto Workers officials have called for new investment in the plant, Ford's position on rear-wheel cars may see St. Thomas get another rear-wheel drive car in the future even if it's not retooled, added Dave Cole, analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"We will see more rear-wheel drives. It can do things like police cruisers (such as the Crown Victoria), or high performance or general utility vehicles. There may be a good chance St. Thomas gets a replacement vehicle, but it has to compete against other plants to get it."
Ford kicked off the first day of the media preview of the North American International Auto Show here by unveiling its latest F-150 pickup truck, which now comes in 35 configurations.
Ford also unveiled new variants on its popular Mustang line and a new alternative fuel system, called EcoBoost, which betters performance in vehicles by 20 per cent.
At its morning news conference, GM also stressed going green, announcing an investment with a new ethanol maker Coskata, in Illinois, which has developed technology to reduce the cost of ethanol, and get the cleaner burning fuel from more than corn, including agricultural waste and even used tires.
Although GM, which debuted the Volt electric car last year, is stressing hybrid technology with eight hybrid models this year and 16 within four years, ethanol vehicles will play a larger role, said Rick Wagoner, GM chief executive.
Wagoner also struck an upbeat tone about the future of the auto industry in Canada.
"Those plants have done a good job for us. A lot will depend on demand, particularly in the U.S. Canada has been solid, our hope is that this economic crunch gets behind us."

Ford sees potential in full-size sedansBy NORMAN DE BONO, SUN MEDIA