Ford Revives Past with Fairlane

January 9, 2005

 2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)

Everything old is new again, or so goes the old adage. In the case of the new Ford Fairlane concept vehicle, it’s the name that’s back again, but Ford is betting that this segment-buster is an entirely new — and better — approach to the people-mover concept.

Perhaps nothing on the road is more reviled these days than the minivan. Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, it just doesn’t get any respect, even from those for whom it’s the perfect, utilitarian solution. So is there a more attractive alternative? That’s what designers had in mind when they began sketching out a shape blending the best elements of an SUV, station wagon and, yes, the practical soccer mom-mobile.

“We think it’s a paradigm shift in terms of what a people mover is,” declared Ford designer Marek Reichman. “It’s something you’d be proud to drive to the Hamptons ,” he adds, or any other tony getaway destination.

In designer parlance, the Fairlane is a two-box design. The average consumer might prefer to describe it as a tall wagon or a less overbearing sport-ute. The Fairlane looks quite large, at first glance, yet it’s actually a surprisingly efficient use of space, with the CD3 mid-size platform that is not much bigger than the chassis of the new Ford Fusion sedan.

There’s a vague similarity to the big Range Rover, and as with Land Rover’s flagship, two words are likely to come to mind: bold and refined. The front end features a three-chrome bar grille with inset blue oval that’s going to become the Ford brand’s signature look over the next few years. The nose gracefully sweeps into scalloped side panels which, in turn, flow into a boxy back end. The tailgate is a slick triple-action system that opens down, like a conventional ute, or swings out from either direction, much like the big old Fords of three decades ago.

The wraparound pillars and other subtle body sculpting, Ford designers claim, results in extremely good aerodynamics and better fuel economy than one might expect from a package of this size and shape.

Under the hood, there’s a V-6 linked to an all-wheel-drive system.

The cockpit is certain to create a buzz. Visually striking, if a bit odd, is the use of unfinished wood elements, including the top of the instrument panel. It looks as if Ford grabbed a piece of birch plywood from the local Home Depot, cut and then steamed it into shape. There are complimenting accent pieces throughout the three-zone interior. The back of the seats are covered with a woven paper that is not only novel but recyclable. Overall, the cabin is bright and airy.

One of his goals was to create a “tactile feel that’s very non-automotive,” explains Reichman, “like you were in your living room.”

The front seats form a driver-focused forward cockpit. The middle row is a lot more roomy and comfortable than what passes for first class on most airlines today. The back features fold-flat seating that makes way for a huge storage compartment. There’s even a rolling kitchen, which would allow an owner to take the idea of the tailgate party to an entirely new and lavish level.

As one would expect of such an upscale product, there are plenty of safety features built into the Fairlane concept, including stability control and a safety canopy rollover airbag system.

Will the Fairlane, in Reichman’s words, “redefine a segment”? Ford is certainly hoping so, and for good reason. It’s never been able to score a success in the large minivan market. Its current Freestar has been all but ignored and it’s not likely to gain traction without lavishing extremely large incentives on the hood. So Ford’s strategy is to move onto something entirely new. It doesn’t expect to hit the home run Chrysler did when it invented the modern minivan, but a solid double would be an improvement over the current situation.

Like a growing number of the concept vehicles on display in recent years, the Fairlane is a very serious effort with a solid likelihood of going into production. If showgoers react positively, Ford is certain to move fast to take this show car from concept to customer.

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