Model T for the 21st Century
FORD has rolled out the vehicle that promises to be its next Model T to herald a second century of car manufacturing.
The Model U (pictured) is intended to be a modern interpretation of the legendary vehicle that brought motoring to the masses. But with a 2.3-litre supercharged hydrogen engine returning 45mpg and zero emissions, the vehicle is also friendly to the environment.
Design vice-president J Mays said: 'The Model U is our plug 'n' play car. From the instruments to the body panels and seats, everything slots into place and can be easily removed for repair or upgrade.
'We've made all entertainment, navigation, telephone and heating functions operate by voice command and the gear lever is wireless so the driver can move it to wherever he wants.
'It uses corn-based materials for its canvas roof and has bodywork produced from soy resin. Just like our first car, this vehicle represents a fresh way of looking at things – it's our Model T for the 21st century. All we need now are the manufacturing processes to match it.'
Ford plans to sharpen its act in fleet as Vauxhall closes in on the top spot
FORD'S European boss has promised fleets the company will be quicker to react to market trends in the future as Vauxhall closes in on the Blue Oval's market-leading position.
Martin Leach, Ford's European president and chief operating officer, revealed at the show that building demand from fleet customers is at the heart of its product development plan for this year. But company officials admit they need to have a closer understanding of customer requirements if the firm is to continue to be Britain's biggest supplier of cars and light commercial vehicles.
In an exclusive interview at the show, Leach said: 'If one of our competitors does something that is so outstanding that they take over the number one position, then so be it.
'But I am not prepared to surrender our position. While I admit we have not been as good as we should have been in the recent past concerning keeping pace with trends, our product line-up is now stronger than it has been at any time in the company's 100-year history. Now our next move has to be to look for substantial improvements in our relationship with customers.'
He said the Mondeo could still retain a position as an aspirational car by looking at the way the company has adapted to changes in the market during its history. He added: 'We need to remember that Ford took over from British Leyland as the biggest brand in Britain by reacting to the needs of the market and understanding what its customers wanted. It is important for us to keep doing that.
'We've carried out a survey to find out more about the areas where our performance has been judged to be weak. I'm not prepared to go into detail about this, but I can tell you that action has been taken and that we have begun to improve. And I can promise you that this will continue.'
His comments come as General Motors Europe marketing vice-president Jonathan Browning said Vauxhall is closing in on Ford's market share.
He said: 'Ford's leadership in fleet is reducing, but beating Ford to number one is not central to what we're doing. We want to improve our performance in a number of areas – retail as well as fleet. I suspect that we're as close to Ford in the fleet sector as we've ever been. We have recently won the Royal Mail account with the Combo van and pulled off other very significant deals.
'And while information from the leasing companies is not public, it shows that the Vectra is head-to-head with the Mondeo in terms of order intake. For us, the nice thing about that statistic is that this is user-chooser as well as institutional business.'
Audi's bold plans for new A3 range
DESIGNERS at Audi are working to turn their next new model into two cars with distinctly different personalities, the firm revealed at the show.
In a radical move, Audi has decided that three and five-door versions of the replacement for its A3 hatchback range will be distinguished by significant alterations in styling.
A spokesman said: 'Rather than simply add two extra doors as we did on the original car, we're going for a big shift in direction on the new model. Our reasoning is that the range will have much wider appeal, but the change will not necessarily result in a boost in sales.'
Sales of the A3 accounted for 20,000 of Audi's all-time record of 65,500 registrations in Britain last year, and the overall volume achieved by the new range is unlikely to be much higher.
The spokesman added: 'The current five-door accounts for only 15% of A3 sales, so we think the different personality of the car that replaces it will balance out demand.' Based on the new A5 platform that has been developed for Volkswagen Group small cars, the three-door model will debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March and will be joined by the five-door later in the year.
The A3 will also be one of group's first models to offer new, super-clean versions of the firm's 1.9-litre diesel engine. Four-cylinder power units that comply with stringent Euro IV emission regulations will go into production in May. Tuned to match existing turbodiesels by producing 100bhp and 130bhp, they will initially also be available in the A4 and A6 ranges. It is understood that the Euro IV engine will also appear under the bonnet of the Touran, the MPV version of the Golf due to be launched at Geneva.
It also launched a stretched version of the A8, the L 4.2 quattro (pictured), which has a longer wheelbase stretched by five-inches to provide additional legroom for rear seat passengers.
The firm also signalled its intention to enter the burgeoning sport utility market by revealing the Pike's Peak Quattro, a concept that could become a production model in 2005.
Money no object as the super luxury cars arrive
THE show became a remarkable showdown for 'money-no-object' travel, with a series of new luxury car unveilings.
After operating as a single company for almost three quarters of a century, two of Britain's best-known luxury car firms appeared as rivals for the first time. Only a few metres of aisle space separated the new Rolls-Royce Phantom and Bentley Continental GT models.
Also on show was the huge Maybach 62 and the Sixteen, a sumptuous and slinky surprise concept from Cadillac.
Rolls-Royce chairman Tony Gott said: 'All our research indicates that the ability to purchase cars like this is growing fast. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way to arrive.'
According to Mercedes Car Group chief Professor Jurgen Hubbert, more than 8,000 people around the world possess the enormous wealth that is needed to own a Maybach.'
But General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz warned there was not enough room for all the luxury players to succeed. He said: 'There's not going to be enough buyers for all these cars, but if there's a way for us to produce the Sixteen, we will.'
No such problem seemed to exist for Aston Martin's AMV8 Vantage (pictured), the stunning new rival for the Porsche 911 that is to be built at the rate of 3,000 per year in the company's new factory at Gaydon.
Even before the press preview days had ended, company officials had turned down offers of deposits on advance orders – and it is understood that Ford executives Nick Scheele and Martin Leach are among the names on an already long list of likely buyers.
BMW gives X3 a sneak preview
SHARP-eyed visitors to the show had a sneak peek at BMW's eagerly-awaited X3 sport utility vehicle (pcitured).
Alongside the Z4 roadster that was making its US debut and the newly-revised 3-series coupe and convertible range, the company rolled out a concept called xActivity. BMW described the vehicle as being a hint at what could be expected in future as the firm's successful X5 range is extended downward to rival a growing number of compact-sized off-road cars.
A spokesman said: 'Ignore the shape of the rear window area and you're looking at the new X3.'