LONDON - Ford Motor Co. has big plans for the Volvo P2X platform, the flexible chassis used on the Swedish company's flagship S80 sedan.
The S80 could be a 'donor of systems' to other vehicles in the Ford family, said Ford CEO Jac Nasser, interviewed after a speech here.
Nasser declined to comment on reports that the S80 will be the basis for the next Ford Taurus.
Supplier sources and company documents confirm that Ford is taking a hard look at using the S80 platform for Ford cars in North America.
'Strategically, the direction we're heading, largely driven by Richard Parry-Jones and Wolfgang Reitzle, will be to utilize our best systems for different car lines,' said Nasser. Parry-Jones is head of global product development. Reitzle is chairman of the company's Premier Automotive Group, which includes Volvo.
'We started with platform commonality,' Nasser said. 'Now we've graduated to more of a common systems strategy. The S80 is one of the best examples of a modern-day vehicle.'
Hans Gustavsson, Volvo senior vice president for product development, said Ford and Volvo are still evaluating product plans and have not made any firm decisions.
Standard & Poor's DRI/McGraw Hill, an industry research firm, recently predicted that the S80 will be used for the next Taurus. The forecast is based on industry information, an assessment of the economics of vehicle platforms and Ford's statements about its reasons for buying Volvo.
Lincoln Merrihew, an automotive analyst with Standard & Poor's office in Lexington, Mass., predicted 400,000 annual sales of the Volvo-based Taurus.
The Volvo S80 was designed before Ford bought Volvo Cars in March. It was designed with flexibility in mind because it eventually was going to be the sole platform for Volvo's larger cars. But flexibility is only one reason that it is so attractive to Ford.
Using the S80 for the Taurus would give Ford an all-new car in time to answer the expected redesigns of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in 2003-2004. A Taurus redesign from scratch likely would arrive later than 2004.
The S80 also has technology that Ford could use on other vehicles.
The car has an advanced 'multiplex' electronic system that allows all data to be transmitted over the same cables to computers that control all electronic functions, whether it be managing the engine or lowering the power windows.
The S80 also is Volvo's safety showcase. It includes features such as an 'inflatable curtain' airbag hidden inside the headliner and stretching from the A pillar to the C pillar on driver and passenger sides. The curtain protects passengers' heads in a crash. The car also has a new 'whiplash protection system.'
In addition, the S80 has an advanced chassis and a system that prevents the car from sliding out of control in emergency maneuvers.
Ford also has an opportunity to fix one of the major flaws of the S80: high cost. Because of Sweden's high labor costs, the relatively low volume of the car and the rigid crash-protection targets the structure is designed to meet, the vehicle is expensive to build. That would change with higher volume.
Staff Reporter Aaron Robinson con tributed to this report