2007 Ford Airstream Concept

January 7, 2007
2007 Ford Airstream Concept

2007 Ford Airstream Concept

Fuel cells and electric-vehicle batteries are bound to change the interior of future vehicles, according to Freeman Thomas, Ford Motor Co.'s advanced design guru. That change led to the development of the Ford Airstream concept vehicle that bows at the 2007 North American International Auto Show.

The exterior of the Ford Airstream Concept is heavily influenced by the unique design of the Airstream travel trailers, which distilled in one iconic shape the traditional American optimism about the future, explains Peter Horbury, Ford North American design chief. The Airstream has just celebrated its 75th anniversary and the popularity of the trailers is soaring, Horbury added.

The Airstream Concept, however, is more than just an academic exercise, Horbury said.  It also demonstrates what crossover vehicles might look like in the future, he said. Sales of crossover vehicles are expected to reach three million units annually by the end of the decade, making it the largest vehicle segment in the U.S. Strong designs will be critical if Ford is to remain competitive in what is already a highly fragmented segment, Horbury said.

The doors on Ford Airstream are asymmetric, allowing for easy loading of passengers and cargo. In addition to the driver-side hatch, the passenger side features a power clamshell door that runs two-thirds the length of the vehicle. A hatch finishes the rear of the Airstream, which has a 125-inch wheelbase, is 78.9 inches wide, and 70.6 inches tall.

The Airstream is powered by a plug-in hydrogen hybrid fuel cell drivetrain, which operates on electric power at all times. The system, developed by scientists and engineers at Ford'sResearch & Innovation Center with partial funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, is half the weight and cost of today's fuel cells and will operate in the dead of winter. In fact, the plug-in hydrogen fuel cell featured in the Ford Airstream Concept is already on the road in a Ford Edge prototype.

 The new fuel cell, supplied by Ford partner Ballard, operates in a steady state, allowing it to be significantly smaller, lowering costs, and drastically improving its durability. With the Ford system, the fuel cell delivers the power needed to recharge the lithium-ion batteries, instead of serving as the primary power source to drive the wheels, as in a typical fuel cell-powered vehicle.

The lithium-ion batteries then drive two electric motors on the vehicle's axles.
Thomas said the new powertrain offers new opportunities for designers to break away from the traditional interior layout that has prevailed in automobiles for more than a century.

Thus, the Ford Airstream Concept features a floating instrument panel with flush-mounted, touch-sensitive controls, while a single-gauge display provides the driver all the primary information. A dual-view screen centrally mounted on the instrument panel provides a camera view and secondary driver-oriented information, while allowing the front-seat passenger to view DVDs and post mobile blogs at the same time.

2007 Ford Airstream Concept

2007 Ford Airstream Concept

In the rear, lounge-like seating is sculptural, creating a cocoon-like environment, Thomas said. The focal point of the rear seating area is a 360-degree screen for entertainment and games. The unique screen not only creates ambient mood settings including a modern lava lamp and a virtual fire, but it also is an entertainment source featuring games and a live camera feed.


Concerns about passenger safety in the free-form interior are met by new safety belt designs, featuring four-point safety belts, Thomas said. "We don't have to use the forms of the past," he said. "We can start to open up the interior of the vehicle. We're not saying we're going to do it but this suggests what the future could look like. This is looking 25 years into the future. There is something beyond the minivan. For us to survive, the lifestyles have to be connected to the vehicle," Thomas added.


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