Tuesday, January 04, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Preview #1 - The Mercury Meta One

Due to the nature of my actual career, the next two weeks are going to be consumed by preparing to cover the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As a result, my postings this week will have an automotive theme as I relay the results of my findings to both of my loyal readers. My postings next week will probably be drunken, hallucinatory ramblings describing my after-work wanderings through the Motor City's less reputable watering holes with my trusty German drinking buddy...er..eh..colleague from Frankfurt. I'll post as long as I can keep from slipping into another tequila coma a la 2004.
Mercury, the red-headed step-child of the Ford Motor Company, is set to unveil the Meta One at this year’s exposition of all things automotive in Detroit. The Meta One is derived from the popular, if aesthetically uninspired, Ford Freestyle but Mercury refreshingly takes the vehicle’s design into a completely different direction. The current batch of Mercury products found on the road today are distinguishable from their Ford-labeled siblings only by the front grill and an average of $2500 in base model MSRP increases. The Meta concept however, possesses a significant stylistic departure for Mercury. To make a statement that would surely raise adamant (and very likely, vehement) denials from Ford’s design staff, the Meta seems inspired more by Cadillac’s “Art and Science” theme than on anything exported out of Dearborn in recent memory. The Meta seems to work. It looks sharp and bold and, if it is ultimately released in a form that even remotely resembles the concept shown in Detroit, could signal that Ford is finally willing to abandon the institutionalized product blandness that has helped do to its market share what recent Sumatran seismic activity has done to the Indian Ocean’s shrimping industry.

In addition to a new vehicle style, the Mercury Meta also boasts several cutting edge safety features. The model shown in Detroit is equipped with a Collision Mitigation by Braking (CMB) system that uses forward facing radar systems, similar to those found in luxury vehicle Adaptive Cruise Controls, to predict imminent collisions, warn the vehicle operator and apply pre-emptive braking that may help prevent the crash or at least significantly lessen its impact. The Meta is also equipped with a Lane Departure Warning System that alerts an operator when the vehicle drifts out of a lane due to inattention, fatigue or after irresponsibly climbing in behind the wheel on the tail end of a savage week-long tequila bender that would have sent Senator Ted Kennedy rushing to the Courtney Love Suite of the Betty Ford Clinic. These two features, combined with the touted Roll Stability Control, could inspire confidence in even the severest of over-cautious highway hypochondriacs.

The Meta, if it makes it to market with its concept powertrain, would be the first diesel/electric vehicle on the road, a significant achievement that could give Ford a decent amount of street cred with the Sierra Club environmentalists it fell so far out of favor with when it launched the goliath Excursion six years ago. This powertrain, in addition to providing stellar gas mileage, puts out more torque than Ford’s current gasoline V-10 with a substantial reduction in output emissions.

The Meta, if its design and technological attributes are embraced and economically implemented into Ford vehicles, could foreshadow some very positive developments creeping into the automaker’s product lines, which is something Ford desperately needs if it does not want to deteriorate to the point of trailing Nepalese rickshaw makers for North American market share and prevent its stock from being traded in dark alleys behind seedy skid row drinking establishments for vouchers redeemable in Styrofoam cups full of watered-down Pabst


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