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Ford Escapes to Vertrek

Message in a bottle: Ford has previewed its all-new Escape with an image showing the silhouette of the production vehicle, which remains faithful to the Vertrek concept pictured here.

Blue Oval’s long-running compact SUV will continue to be called Escape in Australia

Ford logo27 Jan 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY

THE replacement for Ford’s long-running compact SUV will be badged as the Escape – not Kuga – when it goes on sale in Australia late next year.

Confirmation of the Escape nameplate’s continuation Down Under came last week from Kemal Curic, than man who designed the Vertrek concept that previews Ford’s next-generation global compact SUV.

Mr Curic said 80 per cent of the Vertrek show car’s design will carry through to production, which will commence later this year for North America at Ford’s former F-Series truck plant in Louisville.

Production of Europe’s version – which will continue to be badged as the Kuga – should follow in 2012, and the Escape/Kuga is also likely to be produced in China.

Like the redesigned Focus small car upon which it is based, Australia’s next Escape could be imported from Europe before production switches to Ford’s new small-car factory in Thailand, which will be capable of building a range of all-new C-segment Ford models.

Alternatively, the long-overdue successor for the GF-series Mazda 626-based Escape could arrive Down Under in 2012 directly from Thailand, which has a free trade agreement with Australia, potentially spelling better value for customers.

Ford’s next-generation Focus, which is being launched in the US this month and goes on sale in Australia in the third quarter of this year, will be the first product to emerge from the Blue Oval’s ‘One Ford’ global product strategy.

The replacement for Australia’s current Escape, which is sourced from Taiwan and dates back more than a decade, will be one of 10 distinct model derivatives Ford has committed to producing from its all-new global C-segment vehicle platform.

27 center imageThe Kuga has been a smash hit in Europe since it was launched there in 2008 and remains a top three seller in a segment that surged 200 per cent last year, while Ford’s US Escape continues to hold a top five position in North America’s compact SUV class.

Despite experiencing a sales increase in recent times, the Escape remains a minor player in Australia’s booming compact SUV category.

The introduction of its replacement in 2012 will give Australian Ford dealers two new SUV models within the space of about 12 months, following the release of a heavily upgraded Territory – which will debut diesel power – in May this year.

“This car (the Vertrek) won’t be for production,” Mr Curic told Australian journalists in Dearborn this week. “It’s more like a hint of what Ford can do in the near future.

“Eighty per cent of this car you’ll see in the production vehicle … Escape and Kuga will be combined on one platform. In North America and Australia it will be called Escape, in Europe it will be called Kuga.” Asked to confirm if Ford Australia will continue with Escape badge, public affairs director Sinead McAlary said: “The production version of the Vertrek will definitely be coming to Australia and will sit beneath the Territory.

“We won’t be walking away from the (Escape) brand name we have established.” Longer and wider but lower than the outgoing Escape, the Vertrek concept made its world debut at the 2011 Detroit motor show earlier this month powered by a 1.6-litre EcoBoost direct-injection four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which for the first time is paired with fuel-saving idle-stop and regenerative braking technologies.

Ford’s so-called Auto-Start-Stop feature is said to reduce fuel consumption in mixed driving conditions by five per cent, with peak-hour traffic eliciting savings of up to 10 per cent.

As GoAuto reported two weeks ago, an upgraded 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi turbo-diesel engine will also be available, delivering a claimed seven per cent reduction in CO2 emissions over the current unit, while six-speed automatic and manual transmissions will be offered across the range.

Advanced new technologies in the concept comprise ‘active park assist’, a blind-spot information system with ‘cross-traffic alert’ and ‘intelligent access’ with push-button start.

Ford says the Vertrek offers generous cargo of 828 litres behind its twin rear seats (and a huge 1879 litres with the rear seats stowed) despite its sleek exterior design, making it 20 per cent more commodious than Europe’s current Kuga and on par with North America’s boxier Escape.

Unlike larger Ford SUVs such as the Explorer and the Focus-based C-Max people-mover, which was shown in hybrid and plug-in hybrid concept guises at the Detroit show, the Escape/Kuga will not come with seven seats. Although the Vertrek concept features four individual seats, the production version will again offer seating for five.

Other features of the concept unlikely to be seen on the showroom version include side steps that slide out from under the vehicle, massive 21-inch alloy wheels and a lack of B-pillars.

As we’ve reported, the interior of the Vertrek concept, which was developed over nine months at Ford’s Cologne design studio before being built in Turin, was largely the work of Australian designer Dennis Sartorello.

Loosely based on the interior of the Iosis Max concept from the 2009 Geneva motor show, the Vertrek cabin presents the latest interpretation of Ford’s ‘kinetic’ interior design and features a floating instrument panel and centre console.

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