Ford Motor Co. will start selling a new small U.S. minivan in late 2011, five years after exiting the market for those vehicles, by adapting a model from Europe.

The Grand C-Max, based on the Focus compact car, will seat seven and have minivan-style sliding rear doors, said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s product development chief. Dearborn, Michigan- based Ford unveiled the auto today at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Ford is targeting baby boomers’ offspring, known as Millennials or Generation Y, as they enter the child-rearing years, Kuzak said. The wedge-shaped design is a departure from the Windstar and Freestar minivans that were outsold more than 4-to-1 in 2006, their last year, by Chrysler Group LLC’s Dodge Caravan.

“We think we’ll capture the leading edge of the Millennials,” Kuzak said yesterday at a preview for the model in Dearborn. “Minivans with sliding doors carry a stigma, frankly, which is why they’ve fallen in sales. We’ve tried to provide that functionality in an aspirational design.”

The U.S. minivan market peaked at 1.4 million vehicles in 2000 and fell 57 percent to 592,000 last year, according to researcher Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

Now Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, sees an opportunity in the small end of the segment, occupied by Mazda Motor Corp.’s Mazda 5 and Kia Motors Corp.’s Rondo.

The Grand C-Max will be priced between the Ford Edge crossover, which starts at $26,920, and the Focus sedan, which starts at $15,995, Kuzak said yesterday in an interview at the company’s design studio in Dearborn. Ford is basing the van on the Focus compact car sold in Europe.

Global Scale

Kuzak said the Grand C-Max will be profitable because it is derived from Ford’s plan to develop new models globally to save money through economies of scale. Ford projects fielding as many as 10 variations of the Focus, with worldwide sales exceeding 2 million. Last year, Ford’s U.S.-only Focus sold 195,823 units.

“Going with global products allows us to very competitively price the vehicle and still be profitable on a small car,” Kuzak said. “With a small car you’re not compromising anything and at the same time you’re also getting potentially better fuel efficiency.”

Ford could sell as many as 40,000 Grand C-Max models in the U.S., said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. who attended the preview yesterday. That wouldn’t challenge minivan leaders Caravan, Honda Motor Co.’s Odyssey and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Sienna, Brinley said.

Windstar and Freestar sales in 2006 totaled 46,245 units. The Mazda 5 had sales of 22,021 last year.

Source: Gasgoo


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