Frankfurt Motor Show: Ford's New C-Max and Grand C-Max

Frankfurt—Ford Motor Co. today said today that it is not only showing the new Ford C-Max, which will go on sale in Europe next year, but a second all-new design, the Grand C-Max (pictured above), which will be sold in Europe and other markets, including North America, in 2011.

The new C-Max, the original design of which launched with great success in Europe in 2003, looks very much like the big sibling of the Ford Fiesta. Pursuing Ford’s kinetic design scheme, the five passenger C-Max has a muscular, almost chiseled look, but comes across as the nimble utility runabout that it is.

The news for the U.S. though, is the addition of the Grand C-Max to the lineup in 2011. The regular five-door C-Max may not come, because when the new Focus arrives in the U.S. next year it will have a five- door version that is probably too close to the C-Max in price and package.

The Grand C-Max, though, is a longer and slightly taller version of the C-Max, also built off the new global Focus vehicle platform. It has three rows of seats, and seats seven. It also has two rear-sliding doors, but without the slab-side appearance of a minivan.

In fact, you will never see the word “minivan” used around the C-Max, whiich is billed as a “multi-activity-vehicle,” or MAV.

Ford has been out of the minivan business since discontinuing the Freestar minivan in 2007. But many families, especially those with just one or two kids, like the sliding door for getting kids in and out of carseats in cramped parking lots.

It’s a conundrum for vehicle designers and engineers. Sliding doors signify “minivan,” but lots of people like the sliders for parking lots. Just try and get a two year old not yet walking in and out of a backseat carseat through a conventional hinged door in a Whole Foods or Kroger parking lot. Ford thinks it has licked the problem by choosing a smaller vehicle and maintaining an almost SUV-style shape and body accents.

There isn’t much room behind the third seat when it is in use, based on the photos made available. But Ford says there is enough for a few pieces of luggage, a stroller and the like.

The real selling point of the Grand-C-Max, Ford believes, is the versatility in a smaller, more fuel efficient package. People with large families are still going to opt for minivans and SUVs. But there is a trend in the U.S., as well as Europe, to smaller one and two child families. And Ford’s global product boss Derrick Kuzak said Ford designed the Grand C-Max specifically to offer utility, versatility and the sliding door, “without resorting to the vehicle looking like a refrigerator on wheels.”

With Ford, there is always a little confusion over model names. And this is no exception. Since the C-Max is not coming to the U.S., Ford says it will call the seven-passenger vehicle that is selling as Grand C-Max in Europe just “C-Max” in the U.S.

Today, U.S. competitors for the seven-passenger C-Max would include the Mazda5 and Kia Rondo. The Chevrolet Orlando will arrive in 2011.

Ford said 10 models will be created off the new Focus platform for North America. Besides the U.S. version of the C-Max, they include four- and five-door versions of the Focus, the electric Focus model, the next generation Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, and a Mercury sedan. Three other models are under consideration. The gasoline-powered Focus models will debut in late 2010, while the other models will debut later.