THE '07 FORD EDGE: Is This the Most Important Vehicle in Ford's Lineup? [Yes.]

As gasoline prices remain high, as Baby Boomers age, as full-size SUVs lose their luster, as pickup trucks become less appealing to those who don’t need the box, the crossover utility vehicle (CUV) emerges. While far from being first to the segment, Ford is now launching the Edge, which is undoubtedly important to the company’s Way Forward.

Freeman Thomas walks through the history of vehicle design. Yet he starts not with the late nineteenth century, but earlier. He starts with the enclosed, horse-drawn coach. The sort of thing that was featured on the logo for the now-memorable Fisher Body, for example. Thomas points out that there were wheels not just at the corners, but beyond them. And the seating position inside the vehicle (to say nothing of that of the coachman) has a high H-point. He then briskly walks through the years, from when early vehicle designs continued to have comparatively large tires, a high seating position, and then a bit of a boot on the back. This held sway, he notes, primarily until the 1950s and through the 1980s, when sedans and wagons were lowered, and the driver and passenger were comparatively lower to the ground. Then consumers moved to pickup trucks in a big way; those vehicles, of course, provide a high H-point. And from those trucks sport utility vehicles (SUVs) were derived. Now he says that automotive architecture is moving into another phase, this one where there is a high H-point, command seating, good visibility, and utility. . . yet more car-like ingress, egress, ride and handling. It’s the crossover utility vehicle. The one that Thomas is keen on is the Edge, which he believes evinces a design that “is obviously Ford.” He references the marque’s “honest functionalities and language” that are evidenced in the new vehicle, as well as the Fusion sedan and the F-150. Of the Edge he says, “The styling lines are pure and simple. It doesn’t over promise.”

But at Ford, they undoubtedly hope that it will deliver—perhaps over deliver.

Growing Over the Decline. As George Pipas, Ford sales analysis manager, explains that SUV sales are declining, with projected sales for ’06 to be on the order of 2.1 million units, down from peak of some 3 million units. Consider, he says, that as regards CUVs, “This market really didn’t exist 10 years ago.” Yet there is significant growth in both availability and in sales volume. He notes that in 2000, there were 14 CUV models. Currently there are approximately 45. “By 2009, there will be over 70.” Consider sales: Pipas projects that there will be 2.4 million CUVs sold this year—out stripping the SUV volume. And given demographics, this should continue to grow. Ford, which has had a heavy reliance on vehicles like the quintessential American SUV, the Explorer, and the full-size, light-duty pickup, the F-150, is facing up to this different future with things like the Edge CUV.

“Beautiful, efficient, space inside, drives like a car. . .” so says Thomas about the Edge.

The Flexible Factory. The vehicle is being built in the Ford Oakville Assembly Complex (OAC) in Ontario, Canada, which has been revitalized via an investment of $1-billion in the site. A good portion of the money was spent in OAC Body #1, where there are 250 vehicle transport pallets that can handle vehicles of varying sizes, and some 400 robots for welding, material handling, and other operations. Within OAC Body #1 there is the assembly of underbodies, body sides, roofs, hoods, lift gates, and other components. At OAC Body #2, where doors and the rear underbody are produced, there are approximately 200 robots.

In addition to the Ford Edge, the Lincoln MKX is being built at OAC. Further underlining the flexibility in the plant is the fact that the Ford Fairlane, a nine-passenger CUV scheduled for availability in 2008, will be produced there as well.

One more thing about Oakville Assembly: That’s the plant where the Ford and Mercury minivans, the Windstar and the Monterey, were being produced as the Edge and MKX were ramping up. They were ramping down. Pipas suggests that while there will continue to be an overall demand for minivans, that segment is declining, another victim of the changing demographic (older Boomers; fewer kids by the following generations). Another reason why the CUV is becoming so important to Ford.

Benchmarking the CUVs. If there is a growing number of CUVs, and if Ford designers, engineers, and marketers have had the opportunity to assess those that are out there, the question arises: What did they benchmark? The vehicle that was the primary benchmark: the Nissan Murano. Talking about CUVs in general, Dave Pericak, Edge program manager, points out that there are various products—he cites, for example, the Honda Pilot—that are really SUV-like more than CUV like. Another vehicle on the benchmarked list, says Elaine Bannon, Edge chief engineer, was the Subaru B9 Tribeca. If you consider the Toyota Highlander, another CUV, Bannon suggests that it looks more like an SUV. The Murano, Tribeca. . .and Edge, certainly have a different form, although the execution of each is different.

One of the features that Pericak emphasizes as differentiating the Edge from other CUVs is the optional Vista Roof, which consists of a 27.3 x 29.4-in. forward glass panel that both tilts and slides, as well as a 15.75 x 31.3-in. fixed rear glass panel. There are twin powered cloth shades that can cover the glass panels should it be so desired. One of the things that characterizes the American landscape, Thomas notes, is the fact that you can go to many places and look out and see the horizon: there is seemingly endless space. (He contrasts this with Europe, where generally there is a town or village or something else man-made before one sees the horizon.) The Edge is about spaciousness, although in a comparatively compact package (overall length, width (minus mirrors) and height are: 185.7, 75.8 and 67.2 in., respectively). The Edge is American design, unlike its competitors.

The Powertrain Story. The Edge features the Ford 6F50 transmission. It’s a six-speed transmission. A transmission that was fundamentally developed in collaboration with General Motors. Back in 2004 the two companies announced this collaborative program, wherein the two would jointly design, engineer and test the automatic transmission, then separately build them (in Ford’s case at its Van Dyke [Sterling Heights, MI] and Sharonville [OH] transmission plants). Because the two companies are mating the front-wheel-drive transmissions to different engines, the performance characteristics are different.

One notable feature of the 6F50 is the use of an integrated processor that’s called “Transmission System Characterization,” (TSC), which permits each transmission to be automatically adjusted to optimum operating parameters. In producing a transmission (or any complex product, for that matter) there are manufacturing-induced variations. This means that there are differences in the operating parameters from one transmission to another. Ordinarily this calls for additional calibrations. But with the TSC system, there is automatic calibration of the transmission via software adjustments made to the transmission control microprocessor that is integrated within the powertrain control module.

The Edge is equipped with a new 3.5-liter, dual overhead cam. 60° V6 engine that is not only shared with its sister vehicle, the Lincoln MKX, but is slated for deployment in one of five North American products by the end of this decade. The engine is produced at the Lima [Ohio] Engine Plant. For the Edge it produces 263 hp @ 6,250 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm.

High pressure diecasting (HPDC) is used to produce the aluminum cylinder block. This is the first time Ford is using HPDC to make a V-configuration block. The rationale for using this process includes factors such as reduced raw material requirements as compared with sand casting; tighter process control; more consistent casting qualities; and the comparative reduction of post-casting processes (e.g., cleaning, heat treating, machining).

The heads of the engine are also aluminum; computer-aided engineering (CAE) was used extensively to help create a design that supports high airflow and optimized combustion for performance, fuel economy, and low emissions (the engine is PZEV capable—of course, low heat-loss exhaust manifolds and close-coupled catalysts certainly play significant roles inthis capability).

The engine uses a forged-steel crankshaft with induction-hardened journals. The connecting rods are forged powered metal (fractured split, then reassembled). The pistons are cast high-temperature aluminum alloy and the block consequently has cast-in, cast-over iron liners. The intake manifold is composite; the exhaust manifold is cast iron.

There is intake variable valve timing that uses a hydraulically actuated spool valve to rotate the intake camshafts (up to 40° in 0.5 sec.) to optimize idle and drive performance (including a broad torque curve).

One of the outstanding characteristics of the Edge is the overall quietness of the vehicle, which Elaine Bannon, Edge chief engineer, says is the best in the entire Ford lineup. While she acknowledges that they’ve deployed an array of sound-deadening technologies (e.g., baffles in the A-pillars; shoddy), one of the key contributors to the lack of noise is predicated on having designed the engine-transmission package to have low NVH.

The Importance. The importance of the Edge to Ford cannot be overestimated in many ways. Paul Mascarenas, vice president of Engineering for the Americas Product Development, says “It is the single most important launch this year.” But it is far more than just 2006. Ford needs a credible product that will not only take over where the SUVs and the minivans are declining, but to have desirable product that goes beyond the Mustang in terms of presenting its face to the market. In a September 15 speech on the subject of the North American Way Forward turnaround plant, Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. executive vice president and president of The Americas, stated, “What else has changed? More Mustangs. We added additional Mustang derivatives to our near-term product plans—to ensure we have at least one new Mustang every year.” But with the Edge—and the Lincoln MKX, and the production Ford Fairlane—it is clear that what is changing is “More CUVs.” If the sales projections cited by Pipas are accurate, then CUVs will play a major role in Ford’s future.

Mascarenas points out that they had 20,000 orders in the bank for the Edge at launch, which is a fifth of the projected annual volume. A good sign for a company that needs one.