Ford Reenters Domestic Minivan Market After Four-Year Absence

After a long absence, Ford Motor (F) will reenter the U.S. minivan market when it debuts the new Ford C-Max at next month's Detroit auto show. The new model will mark Ford's first effort in the segment since discontinuing the larger Ford Freestar minivan in 2006.

Though new to North America, the C-Max is familiar to European drivers looking for a compact people mover. The C-Max is capable of carrying seven passengers, and its smaller size and lighter weight will allow it to achieve better fuel economy than that of its competitors, according to a statement from Ford.

Those attributes could make the C-Max an ideal choice for young, growing families, which is Ford's target market for the new product. Though minivans as a group have grown larger and heavier since their introduction in the early '80s, the C-Max returns the concept back to more compact dimensions, Ford said.

For example, the C-Max is about two feet shorter than popular competitors such as Honda Motor's (HMC) Odyssey and Chrysler Group's Dodge Grand Caravan.

Between a Focus and an Edge

The C-Max will go on sale in North America "by 2012." The new model is based on Ford's Focus compact car, a new version of which begins production early next month at Ford's Michigan Assembly plant in suburban Detroit. Ford plans to build 10 models based on the basic structure of the Focus.

The C-Max will be priced between the Focus sedan, which starts at $16,640, and the Edge crossover, which starts at $27,220, Bloomberg News reported.

Ford may sell as many as 50,000 C-Max models annually in the U.S., according to auto analyst Jeff Schuster of J.D. Power & Associates. That would be more than twice the sales of Mazda Motor's similar Mazda5 model, which sold some 18,000 copies last year, making it the best-selling compact minivan in the U.S., Bloomberg noted.

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The C-Max will be offered with a bevy of technology both as standard equipment and options. Those include a novel automated rear tailgate that is activated when the driver performs a kicking motion under the rear bumper. The action triggers two sensors embedded in the bumper, lifting the gate. The technology requires a key fob to be in proximity to engage the sensors.

Ford's previous minivan offering, the Freestar, debuted in 2004 and was discontinued two years later. The model never proved to be as popular as its competitors.

Before the Freestar, Ford sold the Windstar, which has been the subject of an extensive recall to repair or replace axles prone to rust and cracks in regions where road salt is routinely used to treat icy pavement.

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