Every year the auto show circuit is packed with concept cars (usually crossovers and minivans) that do away with the B-pillar to tease us with easy access and a wide aperture to the cabin. It's what Ford's European exterior design director Stefan Lamm calls "a designer's dream". But none of them ever make it into production. That is, until now.

Ford first showed off a compact MPV concept called the B-Max at the Geneva Motor Show last year that, like many others, did without a B-pillar altogether. Earlier this month, the Blue Oval automaker announced it was putting the Fiesta-based minivan into production – and that the pillar would stay out. But this is the first image we've received of the production B-Max with its wide-opening doors actually, you know...open.

The combined aperture of the conventional front-hinged doors and sliding rear doors, unencumbered by the pillar you'd usually expect to find there, comes in at a whopping 1.5 meters (nearly five feet) wide – nearly twice that of the Opel Meriva with its innovative rear "suicide" doors – and is made possible by strategic use of high-strength steel incorporated into the doors.

Follow the jump for the full press release and stay tuned for the vehicle's debut at the upcoming Geneva show. While we might hope for the Easy Door Access System to find its way into Ford's American offerings in the near future, we wouldn't expect to find the B-Max you see here in U.S. showrooms any time soon.
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NEW FORD B-MAX'S EASY ACCESS DOOR SYSTEM IS 'CAR DESIGNER'S DREAM' COME TO LIFE

- B-MAX's ingenious hinged front doors and sliding rear doors integrate the central body pillars, providing unrivalled access for passengers and luggage
- Game-changing solution is culmination of intensive collaboration between designers and engineers to transform a tentative first sketch into a fundamental feature of the production-ready B-MAX
- Easy Door Access System makes loading bulky items, or helping children in and out of the car in tight spaces, a breeze, as well as delivering excellent crash protection

BRENTWOOD, Essex, Feb. 10, 2012 – Ford has unveiled a unique door system that brings unrivalled ease-of-access to the all-new B-MAX.

Ford's Easy Access Door System integrates the central body pillars into the doors of its multi-activity vehicle to create 1.5-metre wide unobstructed openings on either side of the car and reduce everyday motoring stress.

Most rear door openings provide around half that space. The Opel Meriva's rear-hinged rear door offers maximum access less than 0.7 metres wide.

"Door systems like this have been a designer's dream for many years," said Stefan Lamm, exterior design director, Ford of Europe. "We have taken the concept from an idea on a designer's sketch pad, to a stylish and versatile product on the showroom floor."

"We set ourselves the challenge of re-imagining the small car," he added. "People are struggling with the spatial challenges of city driving and we wanted to find a new solution."

In developing the concept, a team spent several days observing drivers in their daily routine to understand exactly what customers really wanted in a compact car.

Engineers then took on the challenge of producing a safe and practical vehicle which would meet those needs. They moved the high-strength body-structure from the central body pillars and integrated it directly into the doors to ensure excellent crash protection, particularly in the event of a side impact.

Special ultra-high-strength steels, which provide up to five times the strength of conventional mild steel, were used in key parts of the body and doors to create an extremely strong and stiff structure without adding extra weight.

The process involved intense testing and analysis at every stage. More than 1,000 detailed computer simulations were conducted over three years to optimize side impact crash performance; each simulation taking 24 hours to complete and using the equivalent computer-power of eight high-end PCs. These simulations were then tested in the real world through a further 50 physical side impact crashes.

"We engineered the body to keep all the benefits of the new door concept, while making the structure strong, stiff and light," said Darren Palmer, Product Development Quality Director, Ford of Europe. "Creating a strong, stable body is great for handling. The B-MAX is just as stiff as the latest Fiesta, and will be just as fun to drive too."

The B-MAX interior is packed with features which take maximum advantage of the Easy Access Door System. The rear seats and the front passenger seat can be folded flat to create a large, convenient load platform, to accommodate everything from bicycles to flat-pack furniture.

"The door concept means you can load really large items, more than 2.3 meters long, through the side doors," said Ernst Reim, Chief Interior Designer, Ford of Europe. "This makes a trip to the furniture store, or even a day at the beach with your surfboard, more realistic."

The All-New Ford B-MAX will debut at Geneva next month and go on sale in Europe later in the year.


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