Simple (but smart) new door designComment on this story
The problem with MPVs is that owners will always try to load more into them than the designers ever dreamed possible, leaving the car companies (usually) one step behind in the Space Race.
But now Ford has taken a huge (pun intended) leap in the right direction with the new Ford B-Max, due to debut at the Geneva show in March, with an idea so simple (in principle, anyway) it's breathtaking.
They took the B pillar off the body and put it in the doors.
Ford of Europe exterior design director Stefan Lamm admits it's not a new idea.
“People are struggling with the spatial challenges of city driving,” he said, “and we wanted to find a new solution.
“Door systems like this have been a designer's dream for many years; now we have taken the concept from an idea on a designer's sketch pad and put it on the showroom floor.”
The B-Max body shell has a hinged front door and a sliding rear door on each side - but with no B pillar between them, creating an unobstructed opening 1.5m wide on either side of the vehicle.
Most rear doors provide about half that space; the Opel Meriva's rear-hinged rear door, for example offers maximum access less than 700mm wide.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
The high-strength steels (some as much as five times stiffer than mild steel) that give the B pillars of a conventional vehicle the strength to withstand a heavy side impact without the doors popping open have been moved to the rear edge of the front door and the front edge of the rear sliding door, with latches at the top and bottom, rather than in the middle, hooking into strong lockplates in the floor and gutter-beams.
Of course, it wasn't that easy; more than 1000 detailed computer simulations were run over three years to optimise side-impact crash performance. Each test took 24 hours to run and used the equivalent computer-power of eight desktop computers - and even then Ford's own private mythbusters wrecked 50 pre-production B-Max body shells to prove the computer simulations would hold good in a real-world crash.
Product development quality director Darren Palmer said: “We needed the structure to be strong, stiff and light for decent handling; the new B-Max is just as stiff as the latest Fiesta, and will be just as much fun to drive too.”
Then they gave the new body shell to the interior designers so they could take advantage of its almost unlimited access - which they did. The rear seats and the front passenger seat can be folded flat to create a large, convenient load platform that will accommodate anything from bicycles to flat-pack furniture.
Chief interior designer Ernst Reim said: “You can load really large items, more than 2.3 metres long, through the side doors.
“That makes a trip to the furniture store, or even a day at the beach with your surfboard, more realistic.”
The new Ford B-Max will go on sale in Europe later in 2012; at this stage, however, there are no plans to release it in South Africa.