Archive for May, 2010

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Motoring Memories: Ford Capri, 1969-1978

May 28, 2010

The Ford Mustang, launched in April, 1964 was a runaway success for Ford Motor Company. By fitting an attractive, sporty, long-hood, short-deck, 2+2 body to well-proven Ford Falcon running gear, Lee Iacocca’s Ford Division created a new type of vehicle called the pony car.

Because the Mustang was so popular in North America, Ford thought the idea might be successfully transplanted to Europe. Personal coupes, as they came to be called, selling at reasonable prices, had not yet really caught on there, with a few exceptions like the MGB GT.

Since the days of the Ford Model A (1928-1931), Ford’s British and German subsidiaries had usually been left to design their own cars more suitable for European motoring conditions. But the American pony car idea seemed so good that Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan sent a product planner named Stanley Gillen to Europe to pursue it. He began work on the project with Ford of England in 1965.

The new Capri as it was called when introduced in 1969, was faithful to the Mustang formula. Its low, long-hood, 2+2 coupe body was fitted to existing running gear, and like the Mustang, offered a wide range of options.

While the Capri was conceptually a smaller Mustang, there were differences. Whereas the Mustang’s front suspension had A-arms with high-mounted coil springs, the Capri used MacPherson struts. Both had solid rear axles and leaf springs.

The Capri’s 2,560 mm (100.8 in.) wheelbase was more compact than the Mustang’s 2,743 (108), and at 4,262 mm (167.8 in), it was 351 mm (13.8 in.) shorter overall. The Mustang was also much heavier at 1,270 kg (2,800 lb) compared with the Capri’s 968 (2,135 lb).

Ford built German and British versions of the Capri, the same car, but usually with existing engines taken from their respective product lines. Displacements would ultimately range all the way from 1.3 to 2.8 litres. Power went to the rear wheels though a four-speed manual transmission.

While the Capri was originally intended for the European market only, it turned out so well that Ford officials decided it might appeal to North Americans. Ford started importing them in 1970.

The Capri that arrived was neither purely British nor German. The North American version was built in Germany but fitted with the English Ford Cortina 1.6 litre, overhead valve four that had already been emission-certified for North America in the Ford Cortina. The German engine wasn’t.

Because Ford dealers had the Mustang, the new Capri was sold through Lincoln-Mercury franchises. Although it was advertised as “The Sexy European,” the performance didn’t prove very sexy. Road & Track (6/’70) recorded a lethargic 0-to-96 km/h (60 mph) time of 17.3 seconds and top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph).

Although L-M dealers sold more than 30,000 Capris within a year, a first-year record for imported cars, Ford quickly recognized the need for more power. The remedy was the optional German-built 2.0-litre overhead cam four for 1971, also available in the Ford Pinto. This improved performance considerably: R & T (2/’71) recorded 0-to-96 (60) in 11.5 seconds and a top speed of 174 km/h (108 mph).

With its new-found power, Capri sales moved into the 60,000 per year range, encouraging Ford to offer even more power. For 1972 the German-built Ford 2.6-litre overhead valve V6 was made available. Performance was again improved, although not dramatically: 0-96 (60) went down to 10.4 seconds, and top speed was up to 177 (110) (R&T 3/’72). The anaemic 1.6-litre was discontinued and the 2.0-litre became the standard engine.

Capri’s 1973 sales exceeded 100,000, outstanding for a specialty import. By the mid-1970s however, the Capri’s lustre began to fade. All cars were suffering from the tightening emissions and safety requirements that made them heavier, thirstier and less driveable. Thus, even with the V6 enlarged to 2.8 litres for 1974 (also offered as a Mustang II option), the Capri’s performance and fuel economy declined.

The Capri along with other German cars was also suffering from something else: stiff price increases due to the rising strength of the Deutschmark vs. Canadian and United States dollars. This contributed significantly to slower sales.

A second-generation hatchback Capri came out in 1976 and was imported until 1978, but never enjoyed the success of the original. For 1979 the name was switched to an American-built Mustang clone called the Mercury Capri.

The Sexy European had gradually grown fatter and heavier, losing some of its sex appeal, so it was discontinued.

(from Bill Vance, Canadian Driver)

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Ford invests in next-generation hybrid vehicles

May 26, 2010

Ypsilanti, Michigan – Ford will invest US$135 million to design, engineer and produce key components in-house for its next-generation hybrid-electric vehicles, creating a centre of excellence in Michigan for vehicle electrification.

Ford engineers in Dearborn will design the battery packs, while engineers in Livonia will design electric-drive transaxles. The next-generation hybrids, based on Ford’s global C- and CD-car platforms, will go into production in North America in 2012.

“Electrified vehicles are a key part of our plan to offer a full lineup of green vehicles, and we are building a centre of excellence in the U.S., here in Michigan, to keep Ford on the cutting edge,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of The Americas. “Today’s announcement is another important step in our larger strategy to launch a family of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles around the world.”

Ford’s plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan will assemble the battery packs beginning in 2012, moving work that is currently performed in Mexico by a supplier, while a transmission plant in Sterling Heights will build the electric drive transaxles beginning in 2012 from a supplier facility in Japan. An in-house team will design and engineer the advanced lithium-ion battery systems used to power the next-generation vehicles.

Planned vehicles include the Transit Connect Electric light commercial vehicle, due in North America later this year and in Europe in 2011; the Focus Electric, in North America in 2011 and Europe in 2012; a Lincoln MKZ hybrid available this fall in North America; a next-generation C-car hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle in North America in 2012; and a C-MAX hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric for Europe in 2013.

(from Canadian Driver)

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Ford plugs $135M into electric cars

May 25, 2010

Ford, working to make a quarter of its vehicles run at least partly on electricity, plans to invest $135 million (U.S.) and add 220 jobs at three Michigan facilities to help it introduce five such models by 2012.

About 50 engineers will be hired for a research and development centre to be created in the Detroit area, John Stoll, a Ford spokesman, said Monday. Ford also plans to add 170 production workers at two Michigan plants.

Ford has said it will begin selling two electric vehicles and three new hybrids by 2012 and that such models will constitute 10 per cent to 25 per cent of its worldwide fleet in a decade.

Automakers are developing models powered entirely or in part by electricity to meet U.S. fuel-economy standards.

“Ford has been at the forefront of layering this new technology into their vehicles,” said Michael Robinet, an auto industry analyst with CSM Worldwide. “It’s been an incremental strategy, but one that’s well thought-out and bodes well for their future.”

(from Toronto Star)

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2010 Ford Transit Connect – Ford connects Canada with Turkey

May 19, 2010

Unless you already know the answer, never in a million years will you guess where the 2010 Ford Transit Connect is made.

Everyone I asked gave up trying to guess after a few minutes and all were surprised by the answer: Turkey. Who knew Ford even had manufacturing capability in that country, let alone a facility the company calls its “most advanced light commercial vehicle assembly plant”?

Designed by Ford of Europe, the Transit Connect was named International Van of the Year when launched in 2003. It’s typical of the kind of light commercial vehicle that dots the roads of Europe. Over here, it has no competition.

That uniqueness helped Ford win a competition to replace Canada Post’s aging fleet of light delivery vehicles. The postal service will buy 1,175 Transit Connects this year, Ford’s biggest fleet sale yet of the vehicle that was voted North American Truck of the Year at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Transit Connect comes in two cargo van variations – with or without rear privacy glass – and in a wagon version with side and rear privacy glass and a second row bench seat.

Our test vehicle is the real cargo-carrying kind with solid side doors and twin bucket seats for driver and front passenger. Behind the front seatbacks there’s nothing but a huge space for whatever it is you need to carry. And with twin sliding side doors and tall rear doors that swing open 180 degrees, loading and unloading should be a breeze.

However, I can’t imagine what it would be like backing up the version with no rear glass. It’s tough enough with a rear window because, although it looks like one piece of glass from the outside, it masks the fact the doors have thick frames in which objects can hide.

The lack of windows in the sliding doors means there’s a serious blind spot to either side when backing out of a parking space. The optional reverse sensing system is a must – and only a $250 option. You’ll also come to rely on the heated side mirrors.

The driver and passenger lack little in the way of creature comforts with air conditioning, power doors/windows/mirrors, audio system with AM/FM/CD and audio input jack, two 12V power points up front and one in the cargo area, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering and dual front and seat-mounted side airbags.

There’s even a full-width overhead parcel shelf, with a sturdy net to keep items stowed there from falling on your head.

All versions are powered by a 2.0-litre Duratec four-cylinder engine making 138 hp and connected to a four-speed automatic with overdrive.

Transit Connect has no trouble keeping up with traffic, but in a vehicle like this, 0-100 km/h times aren’t as important as some other numbers. For instance, the van has a tight turning radius of just 5.9 metres, can squeeze under tight doorways with as little as    207.3 cm of clearance and gets decent fuel economy.

But the most important numbers are found inside the vehicle. While an adult can’t stand up on the cargo bay’s totally flat floor, it still has an impressive 4,049 litres of load space and can handle items up to 198 cm long and 143 cm wide.

And with the use of thick, high-strength steel and a reinforced body shell, it’s built to be just as tough as an F-150 pickup.

While Transit Connect handles nimbly in city traffic, because of it’s 2,013 mm overall height I wouldn’t push it too hard in the corners – even with the optional roll stability control. It’s a delivery truck, after all, not a sports car.

But as a small, enclosed van that’s inexpensive to buy and operate, Transit Connect works very well.

Strong Points

  • Huge cargo area
  • Fuel Economy

Weak Points

  • Not the quietest ride
  • Blind spots


Editors Rating:

Fuel consumption —  good for a truck

Value for price  — few options, lots of standard equipment

Styling  —  tall and boxy

Comfort  —  decent front buckets

Performance  —  handles and parks easily

Overall  —  nothing else quite like it

(from Glen Woodcock, Autonet.ca)

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IT’S FIESTA TIME; Ford’s higher aspirations will force competitors to take notice

May 12, 2010


The Ford Fiesta is Europe’s best-selling car this year. That’s the good news for Ford.

The tough news is this: while the 2011 Fiesta hitting Canadian showrooms in June is no Ford Aspire, Ford’s new European-bred subcompact will have a tough time matching the Fiesta’s European success. That is not to say the 2011 Fiesta is a bad good car. Not at all. The Fiesta is an excellent runabout and will be the class of the segment this summer.

The thing is, Canadians like small cars, but we don’t go nuts over really small cars. Look at the list of Canada’s top 10 best-selling cars this year. Eight of them are compacts like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. The only subcompact in the 10 is the Hyundai Accent, which starts at less than $10,000; it’s selling strictly on price.

No, we’re a compact-car nation, though this Fiesta is so good it could prove to be an exception: an affordable but not a bargain-basement subcompact hit.

There is nothing humble or cheap about the Fiesta. It may start at $12,999 (plus $1,350 for freight), but even the most basic version (a sedan, though there is also a much hotter five-door hatchback that starts at $16,799) is anything but undersized, underpowered and understyled.

So if you know your Fords, do not even begin to associate the Fiesta with the old Aspire – the one with roller-skate wheels. The Aspire lasted here from 1994-97, which was three years too long. Manufactured by the then-Kia Motors, the Aspire was underpowered (63 horsepower), came with a lamentable three-speed automatic transmission and was – how can I say this delicately – ugly. Really ugly. AMC Gremlin ugly. And it was noisy, too.

But back in the mid-1990s Ford was busying printing money by selling profitable SUVs like the Explorer. Passenger cars were a sideline.

Fast forward to 2010 and Ford’s world has done a 180-degree turn. SUVs are now rapidly becoming a sideline; going forward, Ford’s emphasis is on selling what Frank Davis calls “a more balanced product portfolio.”

Davis is Ford’s North American product program executive director. He’s a big shot in the product development world at Ford and concedes that even just three years ago Ford was far too dependent on sales of large pickups and SUVs.

Global small-car sales, he says, are projected to explode from 23 million in 2002 to 38 million in 2012. Ford wants a big piece of that action and the Fiesta, followed in January by the all-new Focus compact, are key.

Also critical is how Ford is developing its new models, ones like the Focus. The buzz phrase is “One Ford” and it means that, unlike even three years ago, Ford has now put in place a global product development system to replace the haphazard, regionalized system of before. That is, Ford product development teams in North America, Europe and elsewhere all follow the same script – and that script dictates that the engineers consider local market tastes and regional government regulations when creating a new model. And that new model must essentially be one for the world.

Sure, Ford’s engineers can somewhat tailor certain elements to suit local tastes, but the big idea at work here is to do the basic engineering just once. Global cars, in other words. That saves money, but requires a depth and breadth of engineering and product development expertise and commitment never really seen before in a Detroit-based auto maker.

The Fiesta is almost a global car, but not quite. The European team that took the lead in putting this one together set all the hard points in place before Ford One took hold in the company. The real test of Ford One is the upcoming Focus. This will be Ford’s first truly global product. If Ford nails it, the company expects to sell up to two million vehicles a year across 10 different models, all using the same basic platform.

If this 2011 Fiesta is any indication at all, Ford is certainly going down the right road. The car looks great and drives better than its price tag.

“B-cars [subcompacts] do not have to look like appliances,” says Davis. “The vehicle engineers did not ‘dumb-down’ the suspension,” and for good measure threw in a ride quieter than the bigger Toyota Corolla, along with fuel economy that is “four to five miles per gallon better than B- and C-car (compact) rivals.”

For the record, Ford estimates 45-46 miles per gallon on the highway from the 120-horsepower 1.6-litre four-banger mated to the six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission. In metric, that’s an expected 5.1 litres/100 km. The base 117-hp Honda Fit ($14,480 with a very basic five-speed manual) gets 5.7 litres/100 km on the highway.

But let’s not quibble over fractions of a litre. The big picture here is of a new small Ford that rides and handles better than anything else in this class. By a wide margin.

Ford will make all sorts of noise about the design – chief engineer Steve Pintar points to the “inverted trapezoid grille” and “wraparound lamps with the rising beltline,” along with the “quality and depth of the paint.”

And he’ll point to the quietness created by extra sealing and the design of the windshield. He’ll tell you that the body structure of the car is 55 per cent high-strength steel and that not only is at the heart of responsive road manners, but also makes this a safer, stronger small car. Just in case, there are seven air bags, including one for the driver’s knee.

But it’s still just one car, though Ford is not shy about its “best-in- class” aspirations. What makes the Fiesta even more interesting is that it’s one car that looks to be another in a line of new Ford models – Taurus, Fusion with more coming – that are so good, so compelling, they give pause and force the marketplace and the competition to take notice.

With 90 per cent of its models now “Recommended” by Consumer Reports and all of Ford’s brands ranked in the top 10 of J.D. Power and Associates three-year Vehicle Dependability Study, Ford looks like it’s back in the “car” business, rather than just “Aspire-ing” to be.

(from Jeremy Cato, Globe Drive)

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Ford says buttons begone – New driver interface

May 11, 2010

Windsor native Paul Aldi-ghieri remembers the first question he and a product development team at Ford Motor Co. posed as they began the process of creating a new multimedia infotainment system.

“What do people love about their cars?”

The answer came almost four years later with the development of new driver interface called MyFord Touch.

“We want to be leaders in technology,” said Aldighieri, an ergonomist who holds a kinesiology degree from the University of Waterloo. The F.J. Brennan high school graduate started his career with Ford in 1993 as an ergonomist at the Windsor Engine plant before transferring to the automaker’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters where he works as a designer in product development.

“More and more people are bringing in their infotainment stuff (DVDs, GPS devices) with them in the car,” he said. “The technological solution — it’s not so much the infotainment, per se, but how you connect to it, how easy it is to connect to it, and the elegance of connecting to it. MyFord Touch is where we’re going to set ourselves apart.”

The technology, unveiled in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, builds on Ford’s Sync technology, a voice-activated system for such devices as MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled phones and USB drives.

The new console combines voice recognition with graphic screens and touch controls on the steering wheel. More importantly, its design and location in the vehicle allows customers to drive with minimal distraction, said Aldighieri. “It’s simpler and safer. We’re providing a lot of display area to help present information that people want to manage.”

MyFord Touch will first be available later this summer as options in the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX and the following year in the next generation Ford Focus — one of the automakers more affordable models.

It retains the traditional car interior layout — instrument cluster in front of the driver, centre stack dividing the dashboard — and adds more voice control plus colour LCD screens for the presentation of information. Displays include two small colour LCD screens on either side of the speedometer, with the left-hand one showing vehicle functions and the right-hand one displaying entertainment, phone and data controls. An eight-inch touchscreen LCD rests at the top of the centre stack and has a customizeable interface so the driver can choose to display his own choice of functions, rather than navigate via menus.

“What these screens do provide are a supporting role and context of that interaction,” said Aldighieri. “It gives you status information on your four core activities — communication or phone, entertainment, climate and navigation.”

Peter Frise, scientific director and CEO of the Auto21 research centre at the University of Windsor, said automakers are paying more attention to multimedia infotainment systems as a way of increasing sales.

“It’s obviously a useful marketing tool because it says something about the car and allows people to use the car the way they want to, but it’s also a way of making the act of driving more comfortable, safer and more effective.”

When you combine “voice interface, touch interface and graphic interface it caters to how different people interact with equipment and different technology.”

But it’s important to make sure these systems enhance safety by reducing the risk of driver distraction, added Frise.

“The whole issue of the human machine interface is really foundational to how we drive our cars. So, you’re starting to notice a more intelligent layout of dashboard with much more simple and clear controls, simpler and easier-to-read instruments that encourage drivers to keep their attention out the window and hands on the controls and steering so they’re able to respond to traffic situations quickly and efficiently.”

Aldighieri said the car of the future will rely less and less on buttons and switches.

“We’re transitioning away from a button for every function to something that’s more elegant,” he said. “We’re providing fewer controls on the surface and replacing that with nice elegant organization to tell us what you want to interact with. And we’re going to give you a nice interface to get it done.”

(from Grace Macaluso, Windsor Star)

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Boston okays Ford Transit Connect for taxicabs

May 5, 2010

2011 Ford Transit Connect Taxi Debut at 2010 Chicago

Boston, Massachusetts – The city of Boston has become the first municipality in the U.S. to approve the Ford Transit Connect for taxi use, paving the way for cab owners to purchase the vehicle for fleets. Ford will offer a taxi-specific package on the Transit Connect.

Boston regulates which types of vehicles can be used as taxicabs in city streets, with basic size requirements for headroom, legroom and cargo space.

“We’re very impressed with the Transit Connect,” said Mark Cohen, director of the licensing division of the Boston Police Department. “It’s the closest thing to a purpose-built vehicle for taxi use that I’ve seen in 25 years. When the Ford Crown Victoria goes out of production next year, the taxi industry here in Boston and throughout the country is going to be looking for alternatives. I think the Transit Connect Taxi fits the bill.”

To meet the needs of taxi operators who asked for alternative fuel vehicles, Ford will offer new engine prep packages that allow conversions to both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied propane gas (LPG). The Transit Connect Taxi will also include a factory-installed wiring upfit package, vinyl flooring and seats, and a ventilation unit to heat and cool the second row.

Ford is also collaborating with Creative Mobile Technologies to integrate premier payment processing and passenger information technologies in the taxi, including an 8.4-inch electronic screen that shows cab fare, news, weather, sports scores and stock ticker, with programming selected by the customer. The companies are also developing strategies for potential integration of Ford Work Solutions, including a wireless in-dash computer with high-speed Internet access and navigation.

(from Canadian Driver)