Ford Motor Company will introduce two all-new crossover vehicles and an expanded range of safety, handling and entertainment features as part of the 2007 vehicle lineup previewed for the media Wednesday at the recently renovated Dearborn Development Center (DDC).

In a marketplace that will soon have more than 300 vehicle models competing for attention, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury will present an array of new and updated models that answer customer demand for fuel-efficiency, safety and distinctive design.

"Our strategy begins with the customer, and it will lead to more powerful brands and an even stronger product lineup," said Cisco Codina, group vice president, Ford Marketing, Sales and Service. "We need new innovations and new insights to win customers and to make people’s lives better."

So far, so good.

Anticipation is high for a look at the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX (pronounced "Mark X"), a pair of all-new crossovers reaching dealerships this fall. And media praise has been strong after early drives of the 2007 Shelby GT500 and in reaction to announcements that the 2007 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan will offer all-wheel drive.

Billed as the "right products at the right time," the Edge and MKX include side airbags and Safety CanopyTM side air curtains as standard equipment. All-wheel drive, DVD-based navigation and satellite radio systems are expected to be popular options.

The ’07 lineup is evidence of a much deeper awareness and response to customer demands.

"Too often in the past, our philosophy was to move the metal — to build the vehicles that we had the capacity to build and then price them — often discounting them — to get the customer to bite," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company Executive Vice President and President of the Americas.

Fields, in a speech last week before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that Ford has not always been as customer-focused as it should have. "We didn’t look far enough beyond the horizon, tracking the trends, knowing our customers, and seeing the day when they might want something else.

"I’m proud to tell you, that’s the Ford of the past — not the Ford of today."

With the Edge and MKX, the company has built "the first new product that supports where we are trying to take the Ford brand," said Jeri Ward, Ford Edge marketing manager. "It isn’t just about cargo space, or how flexible the interior is, the Edge really is the total package. This vehicle is going to change a lot of preconceived notions about the Ford brand."

The anticipation — and the stakes — are high in dealer showrooms.

"This is the next vehicle that’s got to measure up to the success of the Fusion," said Kevin Collins, owner of Collins Ford in Louisville, Ky. "Fusion is the high-water mark for us right now, as far as the acceptance of styling, quality and really hitting the target of excitement with consumers.

"Beyond the obvious importance of launching new product, my hope is the Edge will really help us develop a foundation to build on," Collins said.

For the Lincoln brand, which is preparing for a series of product launches this year that includes the all-new Navigator, MKZ ("Mark Z" — formerly the Zephyr) and the MKX crossover, there is a strong feeling that 2007 represents the brand’s best shot at gaining back market share from the likes of Cadillac and Lexus.

"We estimate that each year, there are some 350,000 so-called ’aspirational customers’ who plan to move up into a luxury product, and we’re poised to meet their needs," said Michael Laquere, MKX marketing manager. "We’re coming into a segment (crossovers) with some well-entrenched and established competitors, but it is still a growing segment with a lot of opportunity."

The Edge and MKX launch teams are especially enthusiastic about the feedback they’ve received from early competitive research conducted with nearly 250 target CUV customers. For example, the Ford Edge was pitted against such CUV mainstays as the Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, Subaru B9 Tribeca and the Pontiac Torrent.

"We defined our core competitors as other modern crossovers that have a standard V-6 engine," said Ward. "After covering up all of the badging on each vehicle, we then revealed the price point and finally brands of each vehicle. The good news is the Edge was the top choice after each level of the reveal. Similar to the Fusion, the Edge tested extremely well."

Ward says the research reaffirms what the Edge launch team has already been hearing from media and consumers at auto shows: Ford’s upcoming CUV is a pleasant surprise for many customers.

As a five-passenger luxury crossover, the 2007 Lincoln MKX will give Lincoln its first entry into the red-hot CUV market when it begins production this fall. Analysts had predicted that CUV sales would overtake traditional SUVs by the end of the decade, but many now feel it could happen this year.

"Crossover vehicles are the hottest segment in America with a growth curve that’s even outpacing SUVs during the ’90s," said Peter Horbury, executive director, North America Design. "These buyers are looking for a combination of SUV passenger and cargo flexibility plus car-like agility, ride and fuel economy — qualities that are embodied in the Lincoln MKX."

Billed as having the quietest Lincoln interior yet, the Lincoln MKX also offers a list of amenities that includes adaptive headlamps that move with the steering wheel for improved nighttime visibility, an optional all-glass panoramic Vista RoofTM providing the freedom of open-air motoring, class-exclusive heated and cooled front and heated rear seats, 14-speaker THX® II-certified audio system with 600 watts of power, and a DVD-based navigation system.

Looking to compete directly with luxury crossovers like the Lexus RX 350 and Cadillac SRX, the Lincoln MKX will utilize Ford’s 3.5-liter Duratec V-6 engine (265 hp and 250 lb.-ft. of torque).

Lincoln expects the MKX to accelerate as fast as anything in the class, thanks to that engine coupled with an all-new class-exclusive, smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Both front and all-wheel drive will be offered.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: