Ford Motor Co. will offer the car industry’s first hands-free lift gate on its upcoming Ford C-Max people mover for the U.S.

“To operate the cool feature on the Focus-based C-Max, one simply needs to move one’s leg under the vehicle’s rear end and have the key fob with them,” said Frank Davis, VP-product development for Ford of Europe.

“The C-Max is the first application of this technology,” he said at a recent demonstration at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, not far from the automaker’s global headquarters in suburban Detroit. The vehicle, already on sale in Europe, will also have sliding rear passenger doors for ease of getting in and out.

The hands-free lift gate won’t be standard, he told AutoTrader.com after his presentation.

The life-gate technology most likely utilizes the same rear sensors used for optional backup cameras, said Todd Turner, president of consultancy CarConcepts. He said the sliding doors would be an attractive feature for older, empty-nesters.

But the primary target for the C-Max is not older buyers.

“The Focus C-Max provides young families an aspirational alternative to a minivan,” said Ford’s Derrick Kuzak, group vice president- global product development. The C-Max is good for young families because of its fuel efficiency, technology, functionality and undisclosed price point, he added.

Ford stopped making minivans several years ago as crossovers were gaining in popularity.

“The C-Max fills a white space between crossovers and a minivans,” Kuzak said. Like the European model, the U.S. version can handle seven people or seating for five with ‘“generous cargo in the rear,” he said.

“Without looking like a box on wheels,” the C-Max has a 109” wheelbase and is 178” long, Kuzak said. In comparison, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee has a 114” wheelbase and is nearly 190” long.

The base engine on the 2012 C-Max, due here late next year, will be the 2.5-liter iVCT 1.4 engine with intake variable cam timing technology that optimizes valve timing and provides better power and improved fuel efficiency. Also offered will be the 1.6-liter EcoBoost 1.4 providing 170 horsepower and 177 foot pounds of torque, Davis said.

The interior seating is versatile, with the mechanisms designed to operate with one hand. The second and third row seats can be folded flat. The center, second-row seat can fold under one of the two neighboring seats, creating a walkway space to the far rear.

The U.S. C-Max will come with dual front air bags and side air curtains for all three rows. In Europe, the model got a top five-star safety rating.

Ford will reveal more details about this country’s C-Max at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.

author photo

Jean Halliday is a seasoned journalist with the nation's longest consecutive run covering auto advertising. Her years in the trenches include stints at Automotive News, Adweek and Advertising Age. The native New Yorker now lives outside the Motor City. You can read Jean's blog at AutoAdOpolis.wordpress.com.

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