DETROIT - Ford Division expects 75 percent of 1999 Ford Windstar buyers to order the new fourth door.
Ford admits it made a mistake when a fourth door was left off the facelifted 1998 Windstar, introduced in February 1997.
Now, Ford finally joins Chrysler Corp. and General Motors by adding the feature to its revamped 1999 minivan, to be unveiled in showrooms Oct. 1. In a show of one-upmanship, Ford is touting the Windstar as the only minivan to offer optional dual power sliding doors.
The Windstar's trim levels are renamed in the 1999 model. A new high-end SEL model will compete with the Chrysler Town & Country. Ford also will offer SE, LX and base models. A 3.0-liter V-6 engine powers the base model. The standard engine in the other models is a 200- hp 3.8-liter V-6 that Ford calls the most powerful available in a minivan. About 75 percent of Windstar sales will be base or LX units, said J.C. Collins, Ford Division multipurpose vehicle brand manager.
BIG DOOR DROPPED
Ford is dropping the oversized driver's door that was installed on the 1998 Windstar as a stopgap measure until a fourth door could be added.
But do not expect doors to be the centerpiece of Windstar marketing. Ford will highlight new safety and seating features in the 1999 model, said Mary Ellen Heyde, vehicle line director.
1. The Windstar will be Ford Motor Co.'s first vehicle in the United States to offer optional rear-bumper sonar sensors. When the vehicle is in reverse, drivers will hear a beep if they get within 6 feet of an object. The feature includes an on/off switch.
2. The Windstar will offer optional seat-mounted side airbags.
3. The Windstar's seats perform in new ways. For example, with second-row seats removed, the third-row bench can be moved forward into what Ford calls a 'limousine position.' Back seat travelers gain 5 inches of legroom compared to conventional second-row placement, Ford said.
Seating was a major focus of the 1999 redesign, Heyde said. For example, the Windstar offers seat 'indexing,' she said. The second-row seat can be positioned on the right or left side of the vehicle. This makes it easier to get into and out of the third-row seat, she said.
In addition, the third-row seat is now interchangeable with the second-row seat. Rollers make seat installation and removal easier. Bench seats recline.
Ford will continue to promote the Windstar's five-star rating in U.S. crash tests, Heyde said.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
The 1999 minivan sports new side panels, a new liftgate, larger wraparound headlamps and taillamps, and a redesigned instrument panel. Body stiffness increases 30 percent over 1998. Steering and brakes are improved, Heyde said.
Antilock brakes are standard. Traction control is optional. The electrical system makes it impossible to accidentally lock the doors while the key is in the ignition. An anti-theft system also is standard.
The Windstar hits the heart of the family-vehicle market, Collins said. Buyers average 42 years old, with two children. Seventy-five percent of principal drivers are women.
'Safety, security and maneuverability, that is the core of this vehicle,' Collins said. 'The fact that we have a fourth door is obviously important but it will not overwhelm the marketing.'
Ford quizzed owners of GM minivans in creating the power sliding doors, Heyde said.
'It's like a garage door opener,' she said. 'Once you've got it, you can't live without it.'
Ford has not announced the Windstar's price.