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Small Is The New Big

Ford C-MAX

Will Americans have to be shoehorned into their cars?

As the world gets figuratively smaller, so too are cars getting smaller. Literally. And I don’t imagine the average American (read: large) is going to like it. Bigger is better, and all that.

A couple of weeks ago Ford’s president and CEO Alan Mulally travelled to Delhi, India for the unveiling of its new small car, the Figo. Mulally’s presence in Delhi is important for two reasons: It underscores the importance of the Figo in Ford’s future plans, as it will not be an India-only product; there are plans afoot to export it as well. It also shows just how important India is to Ford. It’s not every day that you see a CEO travel halfway around the world to showcase a new product. As sales tank in North America and Europe, there are large, untapped reserves of customers within the ginormous populations of countries such as India and China who are just now trading in their donkeys and carts for their first automobile.

Ford Figo

And sitting next to the much ballyhooed $2,500 Tata Nano, the Ford Figo looks pretty darned good. Handsome, even. Ford certainly thinks so, as evidenced in their press release: “Design-conscious Italy inspired the new Ford Figo’s name. Figo is colloquial Italian for ‘cool.’” And it goes on: “The bold graphic of Ford Figo’s large side window shape is another key kinetic design feature hinting at the comfort and spaciousness awaiting occupants’ front and rear.”

Good to see that comfort and spaciousness awaits the “occupants’ rear,” as there’s nothing worse than a sore bottom after a long ride.

As far as the overall look goes, perhaps I just don’t have the designer’s eye—I failed to notice the details, like: “From its modern headlamps, grille shapes and sculpted bonnet of its distinctive face to the subtle integrated spoiler and chamfered window shape at the rear, Ford Figo is filled with kinetic design touches. These also include sculpted shapes to the body side—chiseled front fenders, a “comet tail” undercut in the doors and additional light-catching sculpting in the lower bodyside—which combine to communicate the solidity, substance and protective safety of its design…”

Looks to me like someone is getting paid by the word. Will we see the Figo here in North America? Ford’s not saying, but I doubt it. They’re bringing the new, larger Fiesta here next year, which is smaller than its Focus, and they weren’t so sure about that for a long time because of its small size. (Or was it because of Americans’ large size?) Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Figo.

On the other hand, Ford announced at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show that we will see the new compact seven-seat C-MAX here in 2011. The five-passenger C-MAX has been popular in Europe for a few years now. The new seven-seat model seats two in the front, three in the center row, and two more in the third row. The three center-row seats will fold individually to create different seating arrangements, or you can fold both the second and third rows for a completely flat cargo floor if you so desire. It’s too bad it’s taken this long to realize that we never really need the overly-large Explorers, Expeditions, and others of that ilk. For the size of those behemoths, they were never very space-efficient. Many owners never even really used the space they had anyway, as evidenced by all of the driver-only SUVs one passes on the road each day.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the C-MAX next year. You can see more of the current model at And if the editor of this fine paper wishes to send me to Delhi to see the Figo, well, I guess I’ll just have to make that sacrifice.

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