Car of Future Feeds on Corn, Soybeans

Ford's Model U concept SUV crossover uses bio-materials.

Published: 06-Jan-2003

ough the name evokes Ford's past glories, the Model U unveiled yesterday is very much a car of the future.

How else to explain the corn-based fillers in the tires, the foam seat cushions made from soybeans and the hydrogen fuel cells?

Ford billed the Model U -- one of three concept vehicles it unveiled yesterday in a media preview at the North American International Auto Show -- as a contemporary urban transit vehicle.

There are other vehicles here that run on all kinds of fuels, from hydrogen cells and diesel fuel to gasoline that's sipped in ever smaller quantities.

There are sleek, sloping rooflines, roofs that fold or retract -- or no roof at all.

Shapes and designs meet a range of challenges, from hauling cargo to weekend shopping excursions to travelling in style at speeds we should only dream about.

Some of these show-stoppers are only dreams; others may be precursors to the next generation of motor cars -- and many will soon be reality.

It's this array that is drawing more than 6,000 journalists from 63 countries here this week -- and hundreds of thousands of show-goers who will jam the Cobo Center when the floor is opened to the public next Saturday through Jan. 20.

The show is ranked among the world's major automotive expositions, such as Paris, Frankfurt, Geneva and Tokyo, though this annual event on the Detroit riverfront is by far the most important to the industry on this continent.

It's held in the cradle of America's automotive business, making it a priority for every automaker to show its best stuff.

They respond each year with vehicles that in some cases are way out there, as well as others you could drive home today.

This year, more than 60 new vehicles will be rolled out during a hectic schedule of media preview events that continue until Wednesday and help build momentum for the show's public opening.

The frenzy started yesterday, with Ford boasting it would set a world record for unveiling the most products in the shortest period of time in show history.

The automaker that "put America on wheels" is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and Ford chairperson Bill Ford said his company, which has struggled to restructure itself financially in the past 12 months, intends to continue to rebuild by introducing new products.

"Great products drive our success and we plan to continue our growth by bringing new and better products to the marketplace," Ford said.

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