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Old 05-04-2005, 12:46   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford's PAG rejects Mazda6 platform;European design preferred for next-gen mid-size

Ford's PAG rejects Mazda6 platform; European design preferred for next-gen mid-sized vehicles

MARK RECHTIN | Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- Despite recently spending $1 billion on a global mid-sized car platform, Ford Motor Co. has chosen to stretch a compact car platform for its European mid-sized luxury vehicles.

The reason: The mid-sized platform can't meet the performance requirements of Ford's European brands.

Ford Motor will modify the current European C1 platform for Volvo's next generation of large cars, such as the S60 and V70. The modified platform also will underpin the Land Rover Freelander redesign coming in 2007, company sources say.

The modified platform, called EUCD, could spawn the Jaguar X-Type replacement in 2009. For Ford of Europe, it will be the basis of the Ford Mondeo sedan and Galaxy minivan.

The size of the EUCD platform is nearly identical to that of the existing $1 billion Mazda6-based platform, called CD3. In 2002, Ford said CD3 would meet global packaging requirements and have the driving dynamics required of a global mid-sized platform. But the company decided the platform couldn't supply the performance needed for Ford's European brands.

"We had to come up with a set of technologies that respond to the market needs of the PAG brands in Europe," says Mark Fields, Ford Motor's executive vice president in charge of Premier Automotive Group.

Better engine layout

In Volvo's case, the EUCD platform allows Volvo to continue using its inline-five and inline-six-cylinder engines, says Hans-Olov Olsson, CEO of Volvo Car Corp. Such an engine layout is better for safety and packaging than the CD3's layout for V-6 engines, he says.

"We will not compromise on safety, space or interior comfort," Olsson says.

Geoff Upex, Land Rover's design director, says vehicles using CD3 might have lacked off-road capability.

"Somebody giving you a platform and saying, 'Use that,' is completely different from being involved in the authoring of the platform in the first place," Upex says.

Ford declined to make top engineers available to explain why Ford stretched a compact car to meet its European mid-sized requirements, rather than use the existing global mid-sized CD3 platform.

With Ford's European plants already set up to handle C1, it might be easier to stretch that platform and use the established processes, build sequences and supplier networks than to start over with the CD3 platform.

Ford already has planned for the Mazda6 platform to spawn 10 products, including the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln mid-sized sedans and sport wagons. The company expects to sell about 900,000 units in North America from the platform.

The EUCD will share several component sets -- such as suspension, brakes and electrical systems -- with the C1 compact car platform. That platform already is the basis for the Volvo S40, Mazda3 and European-market Ford Focus. In some circles, EUCD is being called C1-Plus.

The U.S. Focus is built on the previous-generation Focus platform.

Michael Robinet, analyst with CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich., believes a platform must produce at least 1 million annual units for it to be efficient.

2 million units

Toyota's and Nissan's mid-sized platforms each generate more than 2 million units annually, Robinet says.

"The trick is whether you can be flexible enough to vary the technology or content levels within all the different models," he says.

Eric Noble, president of The Car Lab consulting firm in Orange, Calif., says manufacturing efficiency means little if it sacrifices the vehicles' performance. Says Noble: "In order to build in the attributes they want, they need this different platform."

Rick Kranz and Amy Wilson contributed to this report
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