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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 12:24 GMT
Ford pins hopes on new models
Ford Model U
The Model U harks back to the days of Henry Ford

Ford has unveiled eight of 15 new vehicle prototypes it hopes will help revive its fortunes.

The world's second-largest car maker has endured a series of glitches that led to an 8% slip in sales last year.

In unveiling the designs on Sunday, Ford chief executive William Ford said the move set in motion the biggest wave of new-product launches in the company's history.

Open in new window : The Detroit motor show
Pictures of new models

Mr Ford, speaking at the North American International Auto Show, currently in media preview in Detroit, said the firm knows great products have driven its past successes and it must focus on bringing innovative designs to market quickly.

Ford hopes to polish its tarnished image as the company, started by Mr Ford's great-grandfather, Henry Ford, in 1903, celebrates its centennial later this year.

'Greener' cars

The eight new concepts unveiled on Sunday run the gamut from traditional family saloons with powerful engines that hark back to designs of the 1960s - the new 427 model - to harder-to-define concepts more akin to today's sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

Ford Freestyle
The Freestyle aims to be all things to all men
Among the latter is the Ford Model U, a not so subtle reference to the legendary Model T Henry Ford launched in the early part of the 20th century.

Unlike its predecessor, however, the Model U was designed to address the needs of a new century more concerned with energy conservation and preservation of natural resources.

To that end, the Model U is powered by a hydrogen-powered internal combustion that Ford says emits air cleaner than it takes in.

It also sports a canvas roof made from corn, uses sunflower oil in its engine and features a soy-based tailgate.

"Emissions, safety and fuel economy - also green materials and processes - are key issues facing the entire industry," said Gerhard Schmidt, who heads up Ford's research and engineering efforts.

Crossover design

While the Model U is a concept car that may be years away from reality, another design, the Freestyle FX, is destined for production next year.

The Ford 427
The 427 is an echo of the big cars of the 1960s
A "crossover" vehicle that mostly resembles an estate wagon, the Freestyle FX is Ford's answer to a flurry of vehicles being introduced that try to be all things to all people.

For example, the Freestyle FX sports a retractable roof on its rearmost portion that allows the car to go from carrying six passengers to carrying bulking cargo.

"It offers the looks of an SUV... the capacity and flexibility of a minivan and the security of all-wheel drive," said Chris Theodore, Ford vice president of product development in North America

Lost momentum

Sales at Ford, the world's second-largest auto maker, have been stung by a series of blunders that have led to numerous product recalls.

While the auto maker reported a surge in December with sales climbing 8% for the month, for the year Ford saw its annual sales fall by the same percentage over 2001.

Ford has endured several well-publicised recalls, including one involving the tyres on its Explorer SUV.

The firm spent billions of dollars to replace Firestone-branded tyres installed as original equipment on the popular vehicle during the 1990s that were blamed for dozens of rollover crashes, resulting in nearly 300 deaths.

'Fire-prone' cars

The auto maker took the expensive step after a highly public feud with Bridgestone, the Japanese parent of Firestone, which eventually led to the downfall of former-Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser.

Ford has also been plagued by quality control problems that have led to a record number of recalls of its Ford Focus compact car.

While the design of the Focus has met with rave reviews from critics, the car has been repeated recalled, most recently in November to fix safety problems and engine fires.

In addition, law-enforcement officials from all over the US have asked Ford to recall thousands of Crown Victoria police cruisers, which authorities say are prone to bursting into flames in rear-end crashes.

Ford endured similar complaints about its Pinto sub-compact car in the 1970s.

See also:

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