It's happened again. When Ford invited some journalists out to test the new C-Max, there was, of course,a dinner involved. For many auto journalists, these dinners represent over 25% of our monthly intake of both vitamin steak and vitamin gin. I even have a doctor's note to make sure I get what I need.
As always, I made sure to hunt down the most haggard looking engineers and ruin their meal with a volley of inane questions.
Here's what I found out. And, remember, readers, I do this for you. Because, dammit, I love you.
The idea: With the Econoline gone and replaced by the Transit as Ford's drafthorse, the legendary Econoline name is free to be repurposed for something more fun. So hear me out: I say, take the Flex platform and basic design language, shift the oily bits around so it's a cab-over design, like the first-generation Econoline. Boom! An instant cool car that can be a family hauler or a hipsters' band shuttle, or anything in between.
The response: Cautious interest. One of the engineers I spoke with felt that the Flex platform could be reconfigured successfully into a cab-over layout. He wasn't quite sure who the market would be for this, but I reminded him that he was a junior-level engineer working on platforms or something and that he should probably leave the Big Ideas to me, okay? I think he respected my take-charge attitude, because he offered me his dessert! He dumped a bowl of scalding-hot pudding in my lap, but I could tell how he meant it.
The idea: Since we're already playing with the Flex, and in many ways it is Ford's most distinctive product out there right now, what about making a 3/4-scale version to be a MINI-fighter? You know, it'd be a small, sporty car with a distinctive look that would compete against the MINI, Fiat 500, New Beetle, etc. Small, big wheels, interesting ribbed body, great visual details— what's not to like? Give it a manual and maybe a hot version of that 1 L 3 cylinder Ecoboost? Whaddya say?
The response: They actually liked this one! The engineer I described this one to actually said it would be "cool." I know because I was so pleased I actually wrote it down. I then tried telling this to some more senior designers, and when they were skeptical, I cleverly showed them the endorsement from one of their own engineers. Alarmingly, the word "cool" scrawled on a napkin in gravy didn't seem to sway them. I tried to call the other engineer over to corroborate my story, but he must have lost a contact lens or something, because I couldn't coax him out from under the bar.
The idea: How about bringing back some famous Ford nameplates? Tempo? Probe? Monarch? Edsel?
The response: No. No. No. And then, a quick but firm slap.
The idea:I've been thinking about materials. What about using more wood in cars? Maybe eco-friendly stuff like bamboo? On the interiors, for, say, the flooring instead of all that dark pile carpet everyone's sick of?
The response: That crappy carpet is made almost entirely of old pop bottles, so it was suggested I can shove my eco-friendly bamboo up my cloaca. That said, one of the engineers did kind of warm to the idea of a wood or bamboo floor in a car, but he was a noise and vibration guy, so he may have just been looking for a challenge. His drinking had increased pretty dramatically once he found there was nowhere else to sit except at my table, so that may be a factor as well. He swiped a bottle of vermouth from behind the bar, and drained it in one, long pull.
The idea: It's the year 2035. I'm an old man, but I still want to have some automotive fun, and the autonomous SleepNumber beds that pass for cars isn't cutting it. So I buy a 2012 Ford C-Max Hybrid for $500— it's in good shape, but the battery pack is shot. Here's my question: can I get an old portable generator or something to replace the battery pack?
The response: The clever noise and vibration engineer actually gave this a lot of thought. It just may be possible, he told me, but he'd have to do some math. We agreed to run a separate story about this as soon as possible, on the condition that I would just let go of his forearm.
Unfortunately, several Ford higher-ups noticed how much he was talking to me, and two men wearing expensive suits and respirators escorted him away. Someone said something about "contamination".