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2007 Ford Sport Trac – Advances the Breed

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) were impressed with the previous Ford Sport Trac and are more impressed with the new 2007 version of Ford’s Sport Utility Truck. The 1st Sport Trac was a funky, hose-it-out, derivative of a two-generations ago Explorer. In its last year in production, the first gen Sport Trac came within a hair’s breadth of winning AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award for the compact pickup category. This is quite an achieve for a last-year vehicle.
The new Sport Trac goes upscale and more sophisticated and adds a V8 to its powertrain offerings. Adopting the more modern Explorer as its basis, Sport Trac gets an independent rear suspension for the first time.Sport Trac gets Ridgeline-like storage bins in the cargo bed. But the key improvements are the V8 and IRS.
Here is Ford’s press release for the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac….
2007 FORD EXPLORER SPORT TRAC AS UNIQUE AS ITS OWNERS
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Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin Concept
Gone are the days when vehicles fit neatly into one of three categories: truck, van, or car. Today, the automotive landscape is much more complicated, with vehicles for every personality or lifestyle. Leading the way in originality and versatility has been the Ford Sport Trac.
The new 2007 Ford Sport Trac follows the same formula of its predecessor. First launched as a 2001 model and based on the best-selling Ford Explorer, the Sport Trac offered the refinement and five-passenger seating of an SUV with the cargo bed and towing capacity of a pickup truck. Its unique blend of capability and personality has attracted a loyal fan base, whose passion for their vehicles rivals that of Mustang enthusiasts.
In fact, nearly 100 Sport Trac fans attended the unveiling of the 2007 Sport Trac at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, some driving from as far as San Francisco and Buffalo. What the owners found was the 2007 Sport Trac kept what they loved about their Tracs, and addressed their three biggest requests: a V-8, more towing capacity, and more refinement.
Underhood, Sport Trac features a standard 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, rated at 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. The big news with the 2007 model, however, is the addition of a V-8.
“Customers have been asking for a V-8 since day one,” says Bryan Olson, Sport Trac marketing manager. “These customers want the added capability and towing capacity, as well as the power and performance that only a V-8 can deliver.”
This V-8, inspired by the one found thumping under the hood of the Mustang GT, is a 4.6-liter, three-valve V-8 delivering 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 Sport Trac delivers an impressive maximum 6,800 pounds of towing capacity, and 1,390 pounds of payload.
That payload is stored in the 40 inch-long cargo box, made of sheet molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner that resists scratches and is dent-proof. Notches in the box for two 2×4 boards across the bed provide tiered storage of materials – including 4×8 sheets of plywood.
Inside the box are three integrated cargo bins recessed into the bed floor, with two six-pack-sized bins in the right and left rear of the box and one large bin that runs the length of the box headboard. The bins are equipped with weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs for storing wet gear or ice.
An available tubular aluminum cargo cage acts as a cargo divider or can be swung out as a bed extender for extra storage capacity when the tailgate is lowered.
Inside, the hose out Tuflor™ rubber floor covering is offset by Berber-carpeted floor mats, and available two-tone six-way power seats or 10-way heated leather seats give the 2007 model two tiers of interior comfort.
Other cool features available on the 2007 Sport Trac include a heated windshield, which uses micro-wires embedded in the glass to help prevent fogging and speed up de-icing, and a six-disc CD changer with integrated SIRIUS satellite radio and navigation.
Refinement is dramatically improved with the all new frame, which Ford engineers say is 427 percent stiffer than before. For the first time, the Sport Trac features an independent rear suspension, which offers significantly better handling over both smooth and rough surfaces as each wheel reacts independently to bumps in the road. In addition, IRS drastically reduces rear-end skate, which is the lateral movement that occurs when a vehicle with a solid rear axle travels over sharp bumps or washboard/corrugated road surfaces.


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Ford's Nancy Gioia – Hybrid Queen

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Nancy Gioia replaced Mary Ann Wright as Director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrids for Ford Motor Company in Fall 2005. Mary Ann nurtured the launch of the Ford Escape Hybrid and contributed to the understanding of hybrids different from Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive.
We first met Nancy Gioia at the launch of the Thunderbird Roadster where she was the chief program engineer. She was open, friendly, conversational and a solid representative for Ford’s product development activities. She wouldn’t even rise to the bait that the T’Bird would not meet its sales potential because you couldn’t see out of it and because it didn’t have a retractable hardtop. Oh, well. The engineers can only implement the vision of others, right? (WRONG!)
Here is Ford’s blurb on Nancy Gioia…

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In its drive to become leader in “green” technology, Ford Motor Company has turned to one of its long-time engineers to lead the charge into a sustainable future. Nancy Gioia, Ford’s Director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrids, is committed not only to further development of the company’s hybrid vehicle portfolio, but also to raising the technology’s profile.
“The hybrids should be our generation’s Model T,” Gioia recently told The Detroit News, quoting her Uncle Harry, who continues to be a source of inspiration for her.
“He said the Model T became part of your life,” Gioia added. “They were more than just cars. You drilled wells with them. You drove them across your fields. Hybrids need to become part of people’s lives today.”
Gioia first became seriously interested in engineering as a high school student interning at Ford Motor Company. She changed her college plans from pre-law to electrical engineering, and upon graduation from University of Michigan selected Ford Motor Company over 14 other job offers.
“I don’t regret it one iota,” said Gioia, who is a native of southeast Michigan.
Gioia started her career at Ford in 1982 in its Electronics Division. “During the ’80s, vehicles went from having $200 worth of electronic components to having $1,200 worth,” Gioia recalled. “We’re seeing similarly rapid technology growth today with hybrid technology. It’s an opportunity to enhance vehicle performance and function while allowing us to get higher quality and reducing cost.”
Nancy’s career at Ford eventually led her to heading up the engineering team for the 2002 Ford Thunderbird and then as lead engineer for the company’s “lifestyle vehicle” group that includes the iconic Mustang.
“As a director I’m very participative and hands-on when my team needs me to be,” Gioia said, adding that she believes in including her team in decision making. “Ford’s hybrid team has some of best and brightest minds around. I have complete confidence in their technical breadth and depth.”
The only thing more important to Gioia than her work is her family. She is married to Tom Gioia, whom she met at Ford. They have a 13-year-old daughter, Samantha, in addition to a dog (Chloe) and two horses.


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Car & Driver – 10Best Cars 2006

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Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
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Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.


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Crossover SUVs to Outsell Traditional SUVs in 2006

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Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.

A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is

Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Escalade Blog.jpg Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.


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Ford Edge – Ford Shows its Edge in January

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Among the 2006 North American International Auto Show introductions will be a new addition to Ford’s sport-utility lineup – the Ford Edge. The Edge uses a car platform, in this case that of the recently introduced Fusion, and adds a more powerful 250-horsepower V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Lincoln also gets a version that becomes the second-generation Aviator. Ahead of the official introduction, Ford has released an illustration that gives us an idea of what the truck will look like.

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NIIHS Announces Safety Winners

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The National Insurance Institute of Highway Safety announced its rankings of the ten safest 2006 model year cars on Sunday December 4, 2005. To make the ratings game easier to understand, NIIHS has developed a gold silver rating scheme. Cars receiving a GOLD rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact, side impact and head restraints. Cars receiving a SILVER rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact and side impacts, “Acceptable” for head restraints.
One of the key objectives for this new combined rating scheme is to push manufacturers in a subtle way towards stronger performances in all aspects of the rating game.
The winners are:
GOLD

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Large Cars: Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego
Mid-Size Cars: Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy
Small Car: Honda Civic 4-door
SILVER
Large Cars: Audi A6
Mid-Size Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4, Chevrolet Malibu with side airbags, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat


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Chevrolet Camaro & Dodge Challenger – It's All About Street Cred

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DETROIT’S MUSCLE-CAR REVIVAL: ALL ABOUT STREET CRED
The latest Mustang is a success in the image ranks and in the buff books. Its sales success has surprised even Ford and production capacity has been increased so they can sell even more. The other historic Detroit brands will revisit the rear-wheel-drive coupe idea at the 2006 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. The first announced concept is the Dodge Challenger shown below. Still under wraps is a new generation Chevrolet Camaro.
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Though Ford has consistently offered a Mustang since 1964 and kept it alive (even if some iterations were less memorable than others), both GM and Chrysler Group abandoned the product formula. Mustang has the edge and success at GM, Chrysler Group, or for any other contenders requires that they establish modern-day credibility with the consumer.
In the heart of most car product planners at American car companies beats a rear-wheel-drive V8-powered coupe or convertible, going much further back than the muscle-car era that gets so much attention these days. As a result, whether timing is by design or by reaction, Dodge and Chevrolet are expected to show concepts on the muscle-car theme at the 2006 Detroit show this January.


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Yarn – Nobody Ever Talks About Ford's Carrousel Concept

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Chrysler was the first manufacturer to launch a truly competitive Minivan in the US market. Of course, Volkswagen had been around for years with its Microbus and Toyota beat Chrysler to the market by a few months with its forward control Toyota Van, but Chrysler launched the first “real” Minivan. But Chrysler was not first with the concept.
Ford Minivan Concepts Were Precursors to Chrysler’s Extremely Successful Minivans
The concepts leading up to the Chrysler Minivan were done at Ford Motor Company. Two groups developed competing Minivan concepts. Hal Sperlich’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Team developed a Minivan concept based on a front wheel drive platform. It was called the “MiniMax”. Hal Sperlich was later to take this basic concept to Chrysler where the K-Car based Minivans were developed and launched in early 1980s. The second Minivan concept… one that has never really seen the light of day, was the Carrousel. Carrousel was developed by Alex Galaniuk’s Light Truck Advanced Engineering team in 1974 running parallel with the MiniMax.
Carrousel 1974 Blog.jpg
Carrousel was a relatively simple concept – take a short wheelbase Econoline Van and make an extremely luxurious wagon/family hauler out of it. The Carrousel had a 460 CID V8 (tucked under the instrument panel in the style of full size vans those days), Thunderbird interior, woodgrain sides, whitewall tires and full wheel covers. It was fully driveable and the prototype was produced by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. The interior had a full flat rear load floor and folding second row seat developed by Lear for the concept. Carrousel was a 5-passenger van.
Inexpensive Program Killed Because it Threatened Country Squire
In those days, Carrousel was a $67 million dollar program. Petty cash to a big car company like GM or Ford or Chrysler. But Carrousel was never to see the light of day. It died when Ford’s research showed it would cannibalize heavily from the Country Squire station wagon then a Ford family jewel. Threatening the Country Squire was verboten and Carrousel (and MiniMax – not so much of a threat) was shelved only to be seen a decade later behind Ford’s Truck Engineering building resting on four flat tires with its paint peeling.
While Carrousel was based on a rear wheel drive platform that was not as package-efficient as a front wheel drive Minivan, its styling and utility would have establlished a quick and low investment program. Another nail in the coffin… General Motors had nothing like Carrousel. In the days when Ford followed GM’s lead in almost everything, that was a definite vote against the innovative new idea.


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GMT900 SUVs Miss Important Feature

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General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.

Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission

To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.


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Ford Fusion Surprises?

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Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.


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