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Ford Fairlane comes to life as Ford Flex


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Ford To Debut Flex Crossover, Aiming To Redefine Minivan
Link to Original Article @ CNNMoney.com March 22, 2007: 08:20 AM EST
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DETROIT -(Dow Jones)- Ford Motor Co. (F) next month will take the wraps off its new Ford Flex, a crossover vehicle intended to give the company a boost in an evolving segment that was once dominated by minivans and has typically returned profits to U.S. auto makers.

Multiple sources at the company familiar with the plans said Ford will debut the vehicle, which mirrors the Ford Fairlane concept crossover, on April 4 at the New York Auto Show. The unveiling comes more than two years after the company first unveiled the boxy Fairlane at the Detroit auto show, and four years after the vehicle was conceived following conversations between Ford's Chief Designer J Mays and legendary apparel designer Ralph Lauren about such a vehicle.

Ford first said it would build a vehicle resembling the Fairlane concept on Sept. 15, when it announced a revamped version of its "Way Forward" North American restructuring plan. Four days earlier, the company filed for a trademark on the Flex name.

The name, along with a production-ready design, will be Ford's big news at the New York auto show, the sources said. Ford spokesman Jim Cain said the company is not disclosing specific plans for the New York auto show. "Ford promises big news at the auto show, but we're keeping our cards close to our vest."

Ford aims to sell approximately 100,000 Flexes annually starting in 2008, according to one union source who was shown the vehicle in January at Ford's Dearborn design studio along with other union representatives. The vehicle will be built in Oakville, Ont.

Dealers Expect Strong Demand



Executives and dealers say the vehicle, known internally as the D-471 program, could potentially pull in a new generation of utility-hungry buyers who don't like minivans, and are eager to drive something more unique than the traditional SUV.

In an interview this week, Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Ford in North Hills, Calif., said key dealers have seen the vehicle and "are very positive on the product." He believes the vehicle will do well among the "anti-minivan crowd."

Boeckmann, whose dealer claims to be the No.1 Ford store in the world in volume terms, says the vehicle will attract women, who have been key in driving demand for high-profit SUVs and grown sour on minivans in many cases. "These women say `I would rather go on a bus than buy a minivan,'" he said. Demand for SUVs has shrunk in recent years, sending many family-car purchasers into the growing crossover vehicle field.

Even as it potentially woos non-Ford loyalists, the Flex could help the auto maker keep current buyers from leaving the brand in search of more innovative products. Ford has lost more than seven percentage points of U.S. market share since 1995, with much of the erosion coming as one-time buyers of domestic car labels flock to models made by Asian car companies.

"To the extent that we can capture existing Ford buyers with this vehicle, that is a step to stabilizing market share," Ford sales analysis manager George Pipas said in an interview.

Part Of Revamped Portfolio


Sources say the Flex's design will be very similar to the Fairlane, which was crafted under the eye of one-time Aston Martin design chief Henrik Fisker. Ford is also creating a more-curvaceous Lincoln version that will not be unveiled at the New York auto show.

The Flex carries three rows of seats and unique side doors that open from the middle - in opposite directions, much like French doors do - and are intended to be a modern alternative to the sliding door popularized by the minivan. In a press release announcing the original concept, Ford Design Chief Mays said, " We're rewriting the people-mover story, offering a more upscale vehicle for American families."

The Dearborn, Mich., auto maker does not currently sell minivans in North America. It pulled the plug on its minivan lineup in 2006 amid poor market demand for the vehicles.

The overall minivan market fell 10% in 2006, according to Ward's Automotive Reports, and the segment is primarily dominated by three players - DaimlerChrysler AG's (DCX), Toyota Motor Corp. ™, and Honda Motor Co. (HMC).

With the Flex and its Lincoln counterpart, Ford hopes to take another step toward offering a wide array of products that generate a reliable stream of revenue, rather than relying on one or two big-hit products - such as the Ford Explorer SUV once was - to carry the entire U.S. business in terms of profitability.

In recent years, the company launched the Ford Fusion sedan family of vehicles, and the Ford Edge crossover family as part of this strategy. The two vehicle lines are built outside the U.S. and are on track to sell at least 300, 000 units in 2007, including sales of Lincoln and Mercury versions.

The success of those vehicles has been surprising, Pipas said, and helped the company balance its product portfolio on the backs of more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers. He said 70% of Ford's retail sales were composed of trucks and SUVs in 2004, but the share of SUVs and trucks are on track to fall to 50% in 2007.
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Hmmm...this will no doubt lead to a Funkmaster Flex edition. :)

Interesting about the doors... a sliding door would be more practical...I assume there is no B-pillar behind the doors?

Speaking of Flex, I've been working with Adobe Flex 2 lately, pretty slick..

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I'm failing to see the philosophy at Ford these days...

When the Flex debuts, we;ll have the Explorer, Escape, Taurus X, Edge and Flex all competeing for essentially the same market... (Or at least it would seem that way)

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the Flex is coming (Although I'm torn on the Lincoln version)

The success of those vehicles [Fusion, MKZ, Milan, Edge & MKX]has been surprising, Pipas said,

Why is it so surprising? they are overall VERY GOOD vehicles. (Even the media gave them solid reviews, in the face of all the Ford bashing) I still think the Fusion and Milan are some of the most attractive cars on the road and the AWD helps seal the sell. The Edge and MKX are nice as well.

and helped the company balance its product portfolio on the backs of more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers. He said 70% of Ford's retail sales were composed of trucks and SUVs in 2004, but the share of SUVs and trucks are on track to fall to 50% in 2007.

Believe it or not, this is actuallly VERY good news... Ford cannot sustain itself on trucks and the fact that the consumer is beginning to embrace Ford for more than just a builder of F-150s and Explorers is GOOD news.

I think Ford will pull through their tough times, they have solid product and they're rectifying the lackluster product slowly but surely. Now if they could just get costs under control.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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I'm failing to see the philosophy at Ford these days...

When the Flex debuts, we;ll have the Explorer, Escape, Taurus X, Edge and Flex all competeing for essentially the same market... (Or at least it would seem that way)

It seems they are trying to cover all the bases in people movers... BOF midsize SUV (Explorer), compact SUV (Escape), tall wagon (Taurus X), larger crossover (Edge), smaller wagonish crossover (Flex)... Ford is competing with Toyota to be the 'wagonmaster', it seems (Ford called themselves the wagonmaster in olden days).
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Speaking of Flex, I've been working with Adobe Flex 2 lately, pretty slick..

---

Adobe® Flex™ 2 software is a rich Internet application framework based on Adobe Flash® that will enable you to productively create beautiful, scalable applications that can reach virtually anyone on any platform. It includes a powerful, Eclipse™ based development tool, an extensive visual component library, and high-performance data services enabling you to meet your applications' most demanding needs.

:huh:

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The Flex better be a superb vehicle if they plan on moving 100k of them. It's like a bloody fish in shark infested waters; the Lambdas are superb, and the new Highlander and Pilot will also be out at the same time, so where does Ford expect the Flex to get 100k sales from? They better hope the market explodes, because the competition is going to be possibly the most competitive market out there.

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A couple of thoughts:

1. With a name like Flex, this damn well better be flex fuel capable or I'm going to lose what little respect I had left for the marketing people at Ford.

2. I liked this vehicle in concept form and am anxious to see what it looks like in production ready form. I think it is a great take on what the future of minivans may be; suicide doors vs. sliding and an updated, boxier look as opposed to the bloated look of minivans. Ford could end up doing a whole lot more than 100,000 units with this thing and if it's received well, could pose a serious threat to Chrysler's new vans. - That being said, execution will be everything with this model. There is no room for it to be odd shaped, bloated or have funny proportions of any kind. I really feel like people will be easily turned off if any of those happen. And, unfortunately, I didn't hear good things after Ford's "Showroom of the Future". So, we'll see.

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The Flex carries three rows of seats and unique side doors that open from the middle - in opposite directions, much like French doors do - and are intended to be a modern alternative to the sliding door popularized by the minivan.

Yeah that open in the middle opening door idea is BRAND SPAKING NEW!

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Edited by 91z4me
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Ford doesn't really have anything else they can show...but...it might be a mistake for them to debut this so soon. I know they need some good press and they gotta show something in NYC, but Fairlane isn't slated to go into production until March of 2008. So almost a year before you can buy it assuming the launch goes smoothly.

The name Flex is a mistake. Might as well be the "Ford WTF?!?" I don't know what was wrong with Fairlane...maybe there were trademake issues.

Either way, Ford has A LOT riding on this vehicle.

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Yeah that open in the middle opening door idea is BRAND SPAKING NEW!

Can't really compare with the van, though..those are side doors separate from the front doors. The Flex has the front and back doors open in the middle, a design that hasn't been seen in the US on anything since the '61-69 Lincoln Continentals..

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Can't really compare with the van, though..those are side doors separate from the front doors. The Flex has the front and back doors open in the middle, a design that hasn't been seen in the US on anything since the '61-69 Lincoln Continentals..

So it has suicide doors. Is that what they are doing? Isn't that just what most extened cab trucks have for the rear doors? I am confused, someone please explain it to me.
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Fullsize trucks and Honda Element have rear half-doors, these are fullsize rear front-opening doors. The name "Flex" is odd, like they're still slavishly searching for any name that begins with "F".
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I like the Fairlane concept, and the Flex production version looks promising, based on the FordBoldMoves videos. I hope it does well... it's a very stylish and contemporary vehicle. Ford better not cheapen this out...

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Still looks gross. Name is lame but I guess it's good

they will not be tarnishing the classic Fairlane name.

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Executives and dealers say the vehicle, known internally as the D-471 program, could potentially pull in a new generation of utility-hungry buyers who don't like minivans, and are eager to drive something more unique than the traditional SUV.

This is the key, if they can hit the "our vehicle has the utility of a minivan but it's way cooler than a minivan" spot then selling 100K units will be easy.

Edited by Member55
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Ford doesn't really have anything else they can show...but...it might be a mistake for them to debut this so soon. I know they need some good press and they gotta show something in NYC, but Fairlane isn't slated to go into production until March of 2008. So almost a year before you can buy it assuming the launch goes smoothly.

I'm going to agree with you...sort of. Ford does need to start showing some promising vehicles and soon. There aren't a lot of people who have any faith in their ability to turnaround and they need to show some of their good future stuff to inspire that confidence. GM did that and it bought them some time. They were showing future products to the media a while ago and letting the cat out of the bag on a bunch of stuff to show that they had a plan, not to mention that the Camaro showed up a year ago and that's still not slated for a while.

That being said, Ford just doesn't get it. The Fairlane or Flex isn't an inspiring vehicle. GM showed the Camaro for a reason, it got media and enthusiast play and let to some positive press in the midst of all the bad, but the Flex won't do that. I don't really know what they have in the hopper that would do the trick, maybe a more production looking version of the Interceptor, maybe a peek at the next unibody Explorer, maybe something that shows life in the Mercury brand other than rebadges, I don't know. But given that I can't really think of anything and that they're turning to the Flex to build enthusiasm tells me Ford isn't going to have the vehicles to pull them out of their current situation for some time.

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I'm going to agree with you...sort of. Ford does need to start showing some promising vehicles and soon. There aren't a lot of people who have any faith in their ability to turnaround and they need to show some of their good future stuff to inspire that confidence. GM did that and it bought them some time. They were showing future products to the media a while ago and letting the cat out of the bag on a bunch of stuff to show that they had a plan, not to mention that the Camaro showed up a year ago and that's still not slated for a while.

That being said, Ford just doesn't get it. The Fairlane or Flex isn't an inspiring vehicle. GM showed the Camaro for a reason, it got media and enthusiast play and let to some positive press in the midst of all the bad, but the Flex won't do that. I don't really know what they have in the hopper that would do the trick, maybe a more production looking version of the Interceptor, maybe a peek at the next unibody Explorer, maybe something that shows life in the Mercury brand other than rebadges, I don't know. But given that I can't really think of anything and that they're turning to the Flex to build enthusiasm tells me Ford isn't going to have the vehicles to pull them out of their current situation for some time.

Yea they do have to show something, it's just unfortunate they've put themselves in this position. If it ends up being a hit with the public, it's going to be tough to tell those people "glad that you like it, we'll sell you one in 12 months!" I'm very interested to see how the public reacts to the Fairl...sigh....Flex. It doesn't look like anything else out there in that segment. It's kind of a minivan, but it isn't. With it's polarizing looks, I almost get the feeling it will be either a large sucess or go down in flames. No middle ground. They'll sell 100 or 100,000. If it ends up not doing well the first 6-12 months...things could get awfully ugly in Dearborn.

Ford also had a preview back in December where they showed media/analyst most of their plans through 2010. I was lucky enough to attend, but Im not allowed to talk about anything I saw. So I can't really address your other questions.

Im not sure showing the Camaro concept so early won't backfire on them to a degree. The enthusiasts are already getting restless and they still have a 2 year wait before they can buy that car. However if the enthusiasts can't wait anymore and get a new car before the Camaro is available, chances are they are buying/leasing a G8.

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Ford also had a preview back in December where they showed media/analyst most of their plans through 2010. I was lucky enough to attend, but Im not allowed to talk about anything I saw. So I can't really address your other questions.

What if we paid you, like, $50.

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The Fairlane concept was beautiful and I hope little is changed when it's translated into a production vehicle. It is one of the few Ford vehicles that I find attractive. I think it has a fair chance to attract new people to the brand. However, I am worried about the Lincoln version. This will be the third Ford vehicle rebadged as a Lincoln in about as many years so it doesn't bode well for Lincoln.

The Taurus X needs to go away, IMO.

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Ford also had a preview back in December where they showed media/analyst most of their plans through 2010. I was lucky enough to attend, but Im not allowed to talk about anything I saw. So I can't really address your other questions.

Can you at least say if there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the Ford tunnel?
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