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Ford's Small, Sassy Fuel-Saver

Under the bonnet of Reflex concept car is a diesel-electric hybrid that Ford claims uses just 3.6 litres of fuel per 100km.

Published: 19-Jan-2006

N class=copy> Forget rip-snorting performance vehicles, the biggest sign that America is shifting towards smaller cars is Ford's star billing of its Reflex, based on the Fiesta platform.

Ford has told a sceptical American market that the Reflex, designed by a team led by former Volvo design chief Peter Horbury, proves small cars can be both bold and American.

Certainly there are bold aspects to the design, with its solar panel-powered headlights, inflatable rear seatbelts and interior noise reduction engineering, courtesy of the rubber from scrapped Nike sports shoes.

There are useful touches too, such as the integrated child seat and the baby-cam in the roof lining that offers the driver video images of the kids arguing in the back.

Take a close look at the car's glass roof and rear hatch and you'll see exposed low-voltage circuitry used as a fashion statement.

You'll also see self-powered solar fans that cool the car when you leave it parked in the sun.

Even the show car's traditional large wheels tip a nod to efficiency with their narrow width for low rolling resistance, and specially designed Michelin tyres.

Under the bonnet there's a diesel-electric hybrid that Ford claims uses just 3.6 litres of fuel per 100km.

That such a power plant is a headliner for Ford at Detroit illustrates just how far the States - and not just the more radical California - has come in terms of fuel economy awareness.

Not that performance has been forgotten. Richard Matheson, managing director of Ford New Zealand and a Massachusetts native, says the latest Ford designs are pretty radical, as well as funky and fun.

But they're also practical, and what went into this car speaks volumes about what the company's CEO and chairman, Bill Ford, is trying to say.

The environment is high on his agenda. The fuel economy, the recycled components and the small-is-big concept that's spreading throughout the States reflects what Bill Ford believes in, and what he believes his company stands for.

Matheson says 250,000 of Ford's production cars will be hybrid or dual fuel by 2010, hence the company's flirtation with alternatives - in this case, all in the same car.

While the F-250 Super Chief ute, also revealed at Detroit, fuels its massive V10 engine on hydrogen, E85 ethanol or petrol, the Reflex combination takes that flexibility much further.

This has got everything: solar, hybrid, electric, diesel. If you look at what will power the vehicles of the future, it will be one of these, or a combination.

This Reflex takes all these concepts in one vehicle stretching the way we think about cars. And maybe all these things are possible.

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Third quarter losses and fierce competition for American car and truck buyers, prompted the automaker to launch a corporate-wide campaign last month to reposition Ford Motor as a leader in innovation and cutting-edge energy policies.

While Ford is having trouble getting hybrids to American buyers, in the UK, Ford cars average 20-40 mpg more than their US counterparts.

Ford's next hybrid will be the Fusion slated to be introduced in 2008, along with the Mercury Milan Hybrid.

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