Ford Airstream concept

Published: 07 January 2007

Ford Airstream: the lowdown

Ford today unveiled the Airstream, a thoroughly American alternative to the S-Max crossover MPV sold in Europe. A collaboration with iconic trailer maker Airstream, the Airstream is a concept car that runs on hydrogen fuel cell power, cossets passengers in a flexible and luxurious cabin and looks exceptionally cool. ‘Crossovers are the fastest growing segment of the market,’ said Ford design supremo J Mays, unveiling the car in Detroit (above). ‘Demographic changes [older, affluent empty nesters] are stimulating huge demand for recreational vehicles – that’s why we teamed up with Airstream. This concept celebrates the joy of the great American journey.’ For more, click next.

Sci-fi design

Two major influences shaped the 4.7m-long Airstream. With its silver plated-look and lozenge shape, the show car is visually linked to Airstream recreational vehicles, America’s glamorous take on the caravan. Meanwhile, the interior design takes inspiration from the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. American Fords’ bold, three bar grille is fused into one rectangular piece, which glows with a piercing white light. The headlamps merge seamlessly into this beefy shield. The doors and windows are assymetric, with a small driver’s side door and large, top-hinged aperture on the offside. The glass is surrounded by bright orange accents, remiscent of flashes on the original Ford S-Max concept.

Futuristic powertrain

The Airstream’s wheels are turned by electric motors. But the novel part is how the electric power is created. A hydrogen fuel cell acts as a generator, creating the electricity on board to keep the lithium-ion battery pack charged. ‘This fuel cell is smaller, more durable and less expensive than previous generations, says J Mays, ‘plus it delivers 41mpg.’ Sounds futuristic? Ford says it’s already experimenting with this powertrain, in prototype versions of its new Edge crossover.

The inside story

The Airstream cabin is part-NASA, part Ikea. The floating centre console and funky shapes are pure space age, offset by curved armchairs up front and a rear lava lamp that could have been plucked from a ’70s living room. Ford predicts the market for crossovers will grow to 3m units annually by 2010, so it’s no surprise its designers are experimenting in this field. Says Mays: ‘The Ford Motor Company is serious about leading in the crossover segment.’

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine