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Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

What Ford needs is practical rec vehicle

May 12, 2002

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Don't you love those commercials in which Bill Ford talks about how his great-grandfather started the recreational vehicle craze by going camping with scientists and presidents in cars Henry Ford built?

The Model T's in those jerky old home movies could be pushed through darned near anything mud, rocks, rivers, you name it.

Those cars were designed from the ground up to take abuse, and Henry Ford obviously wanted his vehicles to offer the best technology available to those who used them in the woods and fields in the early 20th Century.

So here's an idea, Bill: With all of the advances we've made since then in engineering, metallurgy, plastics, tires, electronics and engine development, why don't you try to do the same?

In fact, I've long wondered why none of the auto manufacturers makes a vehicle that's really designed for practical outdoors use, rather than tarted-up urban assault vehicles that go by the name of sport utility.

Bill, I understand that Ford has to be concerned first with making a profit. When I look around this world, I see that idealism is mostly for those who can afford it.

But that doesn't mean we can't try to expand the envelope especially if we can find a way to make a buck out of it.

See, Bill, I think there's probably one heck of a niche market for the first auto company to think more about how an SUV will be used than how it looks.

A friend recently spent more than $35,000 on an SUV and proudly showed me the wonderful stereo system, leather seats and admittedly fantastic freeway ride.

But I couldn't help wondering how you would clean out the back storage area after a dead deer bled all over it. Or why it didn't have a lockable compartment to store guns safely. Or which idiot designed the back compartment so it was too short to hold a standard traveling dog box.

I also looked at those shiny sides with the lovely paint job and wondered how they would stand up to a broken-off pine branch lurking along the side of a two-track.

And Bill, remember the neat scene in your commercial where one of your great-grandfather's cars literally slides down a gravel embankment on its belly? How much damage do you think my pal's new SUV would sustain if he tried that? I suspect he would scrape off about $5,000 worth of unprotected mechanical organs.

Bill, why don't you wander down to a marina sometime and look at a 20-foot fishing boat loaded with electronic and mechanical stuff like fish-finding sonar and downriggers? You know how you clean the gear and interior of that boat after a trip? With soap and water and a hose! What a concept.

And almost every inch of that boat, at least if it's a good one, will be designed around the principle of giving the angler lots of places he can store the things he needs, from fishing rods to flares. There even will be aerated wells where he can carry gallons of water and live bait.

So what I was thinking, Bill, was that instead of taking one of your existing SUVs and adding a couple of amenities for real outdoors people, why don't you start with a bare frame and work up one that's aimed at providing practical storage areas from floorboards to roof? That's a more expensive route, but as I said earlier, I suspect plenty of people out there would buy one.

Now that I think about it, I was wrong that no manufacturer makes such a vehicle. I forgot that Ford does have a line of vehicles that offer much of what I've suggested.

But one thing puzzles me, Bill. Why do you call them Land Rovers?

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