LONDON - After lengthy internal debate, Ford of Europe product developers have decided the multiactivity vehicle based on the Focus will offer only one seating configuration - five seats.
The decision means Ford of Europe will not attempt to compete with the groundbreaking Opel/Vauxhall Zafira compact minivan, which surprised the market with its flexible seven-seat system when it was introduced three years ago.
The multiactivity vehicle will debut at the Paris auto show in September and is expected to go on sale in early 2003.
Ford's difficulties with the vehicle show the problems automakers are having in Europe as segments blur. Finding the next segment buster is not an easy task.
Ford made the decision on the Focus multiactivity vehicle after research showed that the majority of customers would be happy with five seats and would not use two extra small rear seats, a company source said.
Ford plans to continue offering seven seats in the next-generation Galaxy, which will be based on the Mondeo platform after 2004. That is the last year Ford will jointly manufacture the Galaxy with Volkswagen in Palmela, Portugal. The VW Sharan and Seat Alhambra minivans also are built at Palmela.
Ford's decision on the multiactivity vehicle puzzled some analysts. When the Zafira appeared, Martin Leach, Ford's then-new product development chief, killed the company's original idea for a compact minivan based on the Focus.
Ford was taken by surprise by the Zafira's seven seats and some analysts expected Ford to come up with a new seating idea for a rival.
"It's now coming out three years later than it should have come out, and that's a major blunder," said Nigel Griffiths, chief automotive economist at DRI-WEFA a consulting company in London.