Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ford Verve shows small-car future


BY SARAH A. WEBSTER and MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS
A sporty new subcompact car, suspended in air with cables, slowly descended through a crowd of smoke onto the stage at Cobo Arena today.
After the rouge-red car landed, Ford Motor Co. executive Jim Farley unveiled the Verve concept with a simple message: "Verve is our future."
AdvertisementAfter 10 years without a subcompact model below its Focus model, Ford is getting ready to bring its hot, sporty small cars to the United States after having success with them in Europe for years.The new small car won't hit showrooms until 2010, though, bringing Ford to market years after the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and other small models have been gobbling up customers.Farley stood in front of the Verve, and a hatchback version.Hatchbacks have been popular in Europe, but less so in the United States, so Farley encouraged customers to give Ford their thoughts on the new hatchback, which would be sold here if Ford receives the right customer response.Ford is relying on cars like the Verve to help it differentiate its truck-dependent lineup in the future. Last year, Ford's sales in the United States fell 12% compared to 2006.With the graceful and classy-looking Verve, Ford answers two questions that have bedeviled the automaker: Why don’t you build a really good subcompact car? How come Europe gets beautiful Fords we can’t buy here?The Verve’s beautiful fastback sedan shape is almost identical to a small car Ford will sell in the United States beginning in 2010, and its driver-oriented chassis and powertrain come direct from the company’s European engineering center.Ford calls the Verve a B-car, which means it’s smaller than the Focus. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the car that arrives in 2010 will be a subcompact.Each class of cars gets a little larger with each generation, and the concept’s interior space appears to compare very well with current compacts like the Focus.The sedan and a two-door hatchback will be on Ford’s stand at the auto show. The hatchback is the European body style for the car, which Ford will build around the world in different versions tailored to individual markets.The sleek exterior is an example of what Ford calls kinetic design, the styling theme first seen on the acclaimed Mondeo midsize sedan in Europe. Variations on the sleek and distinctive theme will shape future Ford-brand cars sold in America.While the Verve’s appearance is realistic, the concept’s interior serves as a showpiece for advanced design and materials rather than a look into the 2010 production car.Intriguing visual touches include control buttons that look like a mobile phone’s keypad and climate-control dials inspired by the handles of luxury showers.Along with the Verve and the F-150 pickup, Ford also unveiled the rounded and contemporary-looking Explorer America concept, which showcases the engineering advances Ford will use to boost the fuel economy of future vehicles.From lightweight body construction to turbocharged direct-injection engines, the Explorer America relies on available technologies instead of the futuristic drivetrains many concept vehicles claim to use.Combining direct gasoline injection and turbocharging produces a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 275 horsepower and a 3.5-liter V6 generating 340 horsepower. A car-like unibody chassis, six-speed automatic transmission, lightweight materials and energy-efficient accessories like electric power steering would boost fuel economy 25% to 35% versus the current Explorer.Despite its SUV looks, the concept has sliding rear doors to provide minivan-like access to the rear seats.