Detroit 2011: Ford Vertrek Named Best Concept by Autoweek
By Charles Krome
Well, the new Ford Escape is off to a hot start: The Blue Oval’s Vertrek concept, generally accepted as providing more than a few clues to the look of the next-gen Escape (and Kuga), was recently named “Best Concept” at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit by the editors of AutoWeek. And while I recognize the award comes with all the usual caveats one expects with third-party industry honors, winning certainly beats the alternative, especially when you consider how important the new Escape will be for Ford.
For one thing, the current Escape, despite being one of the older vehicles on the market today, is still ringing up high sales volumes. It finished 2010 by finding 191,026 new customers, making the Ford the 12th-best-selling vehicle in the entire industry. Looking just at smallish crossovers, the only entry to best the Escape was the Honda CR-V, with the Toyota RAV4 some 20,000 units behind of the Ford, and the Chevrolet Equinox trailing by more than 40,000 sales. But maintaining this kind of sales pace, even in a growing segment, won’t be simple with the also-growing level of competition. Beyond the three Ford rivals I just mentioned, the Nissan Rogue and Nissan Juke are each gaining traction with customers, and it’s likely just a matter of time before the South Koreans begin eating up share here as well. That means the new Ford is going to have to be a home run for the Escape to even maintain its ranking in the segment, something that’s vital for the automaker’s future.
Then there’s the hybrid factor. Here, again, even though the Escape is getting pretty long in the tooth, it’s still doing the job with customers. It was the second-best-selling hybrid crossover of 2010, and ranked No. 6 on the overall hybrid sales list. We’re only talking about 11,182 units for the year, but they’re important sales for Ford’s image. On the other hand, mention of an Escape hybrid was notably absent from Ford’s recently released plans detailing the future of its hybrid/electric vehicles. That may be a sign that the coming C-MAX hybrid will take the Escape’s place, but there’s really no reason the Blue Oval can’t offer both.
Especially when you remember that the C-MAX and new Escape (along with a total of 10 different nameplates) will be built using the same platform underpinning the 2012 Focus. This is part of the company’s “One Ford” strategy to reduce costs and complexity by integrating its global product lines across different regions. The success of this plan, and therefore vehicles like the new Escape that are developed under its auspices, will go a long way toward keeping Ford’s momentum moving in the right direction.
With so much riding on the Vertrek, it will be quite interesting to see how much further massaging its exterior gets before some version of the vehicle makes it into production. As it stands now, the exterior seems plenty dynamic, but also too derivative for my tastes. It has the stance of an Audi Q7, the face of a (cross-eyed) new Volkswagen, the same sculpted wheel arches and parallel character lines used by nearly all OEMs at this stage, and a rather plain roofline.
In other words, it doesn’t look like a vehicle that can garner near 200,000 annual sales—but then again, neither does the current Escape.