• Jul 15th 2007 at 12:23PM
  • 16
Click on the AirStream for a gallery of images at the track

Ford brought out its 2007 concept cars at the company's Dearborn Development Center this week to give the invited media, including your humble narrator, a chance to sample the new designs in the harsh light of day. And it was definitely a harsh day, with maximum humidity and temperatures in the low nineties.

Harsh certainly describes the treatment Ford got from the media at the Detroit Auto Show for the AirStream concept. The Lincoln MKR and Ford Interceptor both got an unintentional preview weeks before the show thanks to our colleagues at the print publications, but the Airstream came out of nowhere. As Peter Horbury acknowledged in our discussion, Ford may have been better off had it emphasized the mechanicals of the Airstream over the design.

Continue reading about the Airstream drive after the jump.

The Airstream came as something of a surprise, appearing just a few months after Ford bailed out of the minivan market by euthanizing the slow-selling Freestar. The one-box design of the Airstream was meant to show off some of the design flexibility of the HySeries drive platform, which Ford designed in a manner similar to GM's skateboard platform. Everything is mounted low in the chassis with a hydrogen storage tank down the middle and a lithium ion battery pack and fuel cell on either side of it. At the front and rear axles are a pair of electric motors.

Almost any kind of package could be put on top of this configuration. In conjunction with travel trailer manufacturer Airstream, Ford's designers came up with something that dovetailed with the theme, "American Journey." The Airstream concept that appeared was an aluminum-skinned combination of a self-propelled Airstream trailer and something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inside, the front seats were shaped like the half-eggshells 1960s designers would have envisioned as commonplace furniture in the twenty-first century.

Getting into the seats was problematic thanks to the high sills of the door opening and the lack of adjustability for the seats and steering wheel. If the seats were installed in a vehicle with high cornering capabilities, lateral support would certainly not be a complaint, thanks to the wraparound shape. Unfortunately, the seat design inhibits shoulder movement, too, making steering difficult at best. Another ergonomic quirk was the gas and brake pedals being closer to the center line of the vehicle than the center line of the driver's seat. Getting out was not much easier than getting in.

Although the Airstream was advertised as riding on the fuel cell series hybrid platform, the only functional vehicle to actually use that layout was the HySeries Edge. The Airstream was actually propelled by an undisclosed internal combustion engine. Given the ergonomic failings of the concept, driving it was difficult, which made sticking to the low speed limit easy.

As Freeman Thomas said, Ford needs to swing for the fences and create designs that a segment of the audience will love even if others hate it. Whether something shaped like a van can still succeed in the market is an open question, but if it's innovative and boldly designed, it just might work. The Airstream certainly has the latter portion of the equation covered, and we'll just have wait and see how much of it makes it to the street.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Good to see Subaru getting it's designs together. Oh wait. This is Ford...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Hey, its the 2011 Ford Aerostar!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Bringing a fully engineered, functional, and daily driveable concept to an auto show isn't easy. In fact most show cars have drivetrains different from the ones attributed to the concept. Audi may be fine making reskinned concept versions of cars they already have, but outlandish concept cars are part of our heritage.

      I'm not totally happy with the state of domestic concept cars. I do think too many don't make it to production in any form. Or it's a case of "Oooh those headlights look similar to that concept from 4 years ago."

      But I love this concept. The only problem is that even if it did make it to production it would have 17 in. wheels and bigger windows and would end up looking laughable.

      • 8 Years Ago
      Too bad Ford doesn't spend as much time improving the quality of their vehicles as they do on these asinine looking concept vehicles that have about much chance as a snow-ball in Hell to become production vehicles. ( Hell, MI being the exception)
      • 8 Years Ago
      If it were at all possible, my wife would have had me drive the family home from NAIAS in this vehicle. Ford hasn't made a non-Mustang, non-F-series that commands that kind of passion since . . . ?

      • 8 Years Ago
      GM has the Volt...and Ford has this!?
      • 8 Years Ago
      A design exercise should be...well an exercise. With todays technology it should be mega-bytes, not mega dollars. It is good to keep looking at abstract ideas & concepts for the future.
      However, I question the decision maker who ever selected the design to be greenlighted as a working model.
      • 8 Years Ago
      This is one of the most god-awful-looking concepts to come from *any* car company in a long time. I saw this abomination at the KC auto show, and it's not only one of those cars that looks bad in pictures, but it somehow manages to look even worse in person.

      Instead of just making shiny silver vans with crazy shaped windows, why not make concepts people would actually want to drive, like the Interceptor.
      • 8 Years Ago
      What in heaven's name is that thing??


      • 8 Years Ago
      Designing for automakers must be like writing for Star Trek. You simply doodle out some unusable spacey looking crap, give it some dreamy technobabble drive unit whose name you thought up while doing mushrooms and that doesn't have a chance in hell of seeing daylight, spend money with the props and set design people to make your fiction look kinda real, and then smile for a picture with it.

      Instead, I have to do real crap for a living. I want the BS job these "automotive engineers" have.
        • 8 Years Ago
        "Designing for [american] automakers must be like writing for Star Trek."

        Much better :). We must be careful with car makers like Audi who manage to put the majority of their concepts (LeMans, Pike's Peak, et-al) into production. It seems the American Automakers are especially fond of setting designers hard to work on 1950's space-notion inspired themes, while their vastly more financially solvent counterparts spend a great deal of time producing concepts to gauge market response to production vehicles which arrive two years later. Amazing what happens when designers spend all that effort on improving products we can buy.

        Perhaps they simply needed to find ways to keep their vast army of staff occupied.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Awe man I love stuff like this, eVolt concepts based on technology not currently existing, Airstream running on a fuel cell sled... erm not. Lol. It'd be nice to see these concepts actually running on the fantasy material printed in their literature, like most other auto companies are kind enough to do.

      Furthermore, why not provide us with a REAL concept based on the platform, ie something that could make production, instead of something so wildly outlandish that viewers automatically dismiss it, and it's fantom drive-train?

      Looks as though Ford, while making a good turn around, still has a bit to learn.
      Christopher Watts
      • 8 Years Ago
      I like it...it's pretty cool...but it don't see any head/tail lights. Seems unsafe. The interior color gives me a headache...but I'm sure they would have personally asked me had this been a 'real' design exercise.
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