Sliding doors wasn’t just a great Gwyneth Paltrow movie, it is also a great way to access the rear quarters of your family hauler. Whether it is a tight parking space, having your arms full with baby and packages or children who are overly aggressive door openers, having a magical portal that slides open on its own track makes a lot of sense. Ford in the USA has abandoned the market for sliding doors, choosing instead the more traditional swinging door that adorns most vehicles sold in this market.
I witnessed the Ford Flex reveal and the promise that omitting the sliding doors saved cost and the savings allowed for a richer interior. What followed, however, was not a wild stampede of buyers. Was it the boxy styling? The wrong mix of options or just perhaps a lament amongst buyers that Ford had not replaced the Windstar/Freestar/Mazzy Star minivan with a suitable heir to the throne. To this day, I still wonder if the Flex’s fortunes would not have been better had its doors been sliders rather than hinged. Too bad we cannot go back in time to see what would have happened. Where the heck is Clarence Odbody when you need him?
Regret over the Flex aside, I was willing to let bygones be bygones and instead looked forward to the launch of a new baby people mover in Ford’s U.S. arsenal: The C-Max. Pitched as a "whitespace" Mazda5 competitor with European tuning and a bevy of Ford’s fabulous slate of options the C-Max looked to be a true return to a true, albeit small, sliding door minivan. But my hopes were dashed by today's news that Ford had decided to change gears and market the C-Max solely has a five-seater, hybrid vehicle.
Does it make sense? From a pure marketing perspective, one does have to weigh the value of a C-Max brand in the U.S. that can trade its stock on being a competitor to the likes of Toyota's Prius V. Does leaving a few minivan buyers on the side of the road really matter that much? My reply would be, yes, it does matter. If Ford has shown us anything as of late, is that it is aware that Americans are breaking old habits left and right. Heavy SUVs have given way to nimbler and thriftier crossovers and humble “economy” cars can now retail in the high twenties with a gaggle of options and processors onboard that would embarrass the space shuttle. Ford F-150s equipped with V6 engines gobble up share and hatchback Fiestas and Foci are flying off the shelves. The time is ripe for a rethink on the family hauler and a credible alternative to jumbo minivans could have been a nifty trick up Ford’s sleeve.