Ford Minivan Will Have New Hands-Free Liftgate

Automaker's new C-Max small minivan will have the exclusive hands-free liftgate feature when it goes on sale in the U.S. next fall.

DETROIT (AP) -- Ford Motor Co.'s new C-Max small minivan will have an exclusive feature when it goes on sale in the U.S. next fall: A hands-free liftgate.

The C-Max liftgate opens with the wave of a foot under the back of the minivan. The van will only open for the person who's holding its key. Ford says the U.S. version of the C-Max will be the first vehicle on the market with this technology.

The C-Max marks Ford's return to the U.S. minivan market five years after it stopped selling its last minivan, the Freestar. The C-Max has been on sale in Europe since 2003, although a seven-seat version wasn't sold there until this year. The C-Max is built on the underpinnings of the Ford Focus, and is part of the company's plan to build 10 Focus-based vehicles worldwide by 2012.

Ford will sell the seven-seat C-Max in the U.S., a configuration that will make it unique in the small-minivan market. The Mazda5, its closest rival in size, seats six. Ford manages the extra body by giving the second row a middle seat that can be folded away under the right-hand seat. Buyers will be able to get the third row removed if they prefer to have five seats.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford's product development chief, said the company sent teams to live with young families and see how they used their vehicles. Ford tried hard to mask the twin sliding doors and make the C-Max fun to drive so it could overcome minivans' reputations as boring family haulers, he said.

"We wanted a minivan that would be aspirational, something they would actually choose," Kuzak told reporters at a recent preview for next month's Detroit auto show, where Ford will unveil the U.S. version of the C-Max.

The C-Max hits the market at a time when minivan sales have been growing. Minivan sales were up 9 percent through November over the same period in 2009, according to Autodata Corp. The Chrysler Town and Country was the top seller, followed closely by the Honda Odyssey.
More in Automotive