Aside from treacherous behavior on behalf of fellow press (how much flesh is a press kit worth, in reality?), the biggest disappointment of the recent Detroit Auto Show was Ford's 24-7 concept car, shown in the form of a bland trio of sedan, wagon and pickup.
Compared to the massed ranks of concepts shown by GM and DaimlerChrysler, Dearborn's effort was lackluster, short on style and pure automotive technology. As for the electronic technology that was its major feature, even that was essentially 'what-if' stuff that is not yet achievable - and if it was, its real-world usefulness is uncertain.
The judgement may seem harsh, but look at the evidence. The chassis technology of the 24.7 is good, but hardly cutting edge, since the car rides on a Focus floorpan that has merely been lengthened by two inches. The Focus may be America's Car of the Year for 1999, but it was European Car of the Year in 1998, which means it was designed about five years ago. Ford's production engineers are currently working on more advanced chassis technology than that which has been put forward as the company's dream of the future.
As for the style of the three 24.7 versions shown, they were nothing special, and would not have looked out of place in the graduation show of any good automobile design course. What's more, none of the three showed any real forward-thinking design ideas from the point of view of overall shapes or detail. The impression is that this is a lazy design operation, thrown together using such overworked concept car gimmicks as TV cameras instead of rear-view mirrors. The day a car manufacturer replaces a $2 piece of heated glass with a $100 piece of miniaturized electronic technology in a family car is the day that company's profits start to head south — and Ford isn't such a company. (If you want a modern take on the old 'TV camera at the rear' gimmick, look at GM's Terradyne concept, where a tailgate-mounted camera helps when backing-up or hitching a trailer.)
A lazy design?
Ford's 24.7 design is so lazy that the PR department was hard-pressed to find something to put in the press releases. It came up with the following selling point for the 24-7 wagon: "When the key fob is clicked to unlock the vehicle, a light panel mounted in the interior headliner glows yellow, giving the wagon a warm, inviting feel."
Ford 24.7 coupe Interior
The 24.7’s interior glows green to "welcome the driver into the vehicle."
The interior light comes on when you unlock by remote? Haven't the Ford styling people driven an Acura — or most other new cars — lately? But it gets worse. The release for the truck says: "When the key fob is clicked to unlock the vehicle, a light panel mounted in the interior headliner glows orange — showing that this pickup is always ready for any adventure." As for the coupe, well, when you click its key fob, "a light panel mounted in the interior headliner glows green — welcoming the driver into the vehicle." So there we are, yellow means inviting, orange means adventure and green means welcome — the whole means there's not much to say about the 24.7's interior.
But according to Ford, it's when the interior light goes off and we prepare to drive away that the 24.7 comes into its own, thanks to its advanced electronics from Visteon. Now there is no doubt that the electronics are advanced and capable — but are they useful? One of the unique features of the 24.7 is the ability of the dash and in-car systems to be individualized to suit different users. This means each user of the car can have her or his own set of instruments, and that the gauges appear on the instrument panel in the ideal configuration for the specific driver. The available choices include: speedometer, oil, fuel, GPS/map, Internet, e-mail, mobile phone, compact disc/tape/radio and clock. Do you really need to select which gauges are on your car's dash and where they are placed? And if you were an enthusiastic driver, wouldn't you want more than just three that refer to what your car and its engine is doing?