A four-foot, eight-inch (1.32-metre)-long, 26.5 cubic foot cargo compartment, trimmed to 'recall the craftsmanship of classic wooden motorboats', reached through a power tonneau cover and side-hinged Dutch doors is the most unusual feature of Ford Motor Company's production 2002 Lincoln Blackwood truck.

The African Wenge wood of the original 1999 concept vehicle's load box has been replaced for production by a three-dimensional composite surface.

The photo-laminate process used to create the panels creates the illusion of wood bands, each of which is outlined by a brushed aluminum stripe. The panels maintained their colour after seven simulated years of weathering.

The power tonneau cover nests into the rear doors and becomes a structural member when latched at each corner. Those Dutch-style (i.e. side-hinged) rear doors allow easier loading and unloading by eliminating the need to bend over a lowered tailgate.

The tonneau cover operates from the key fob, interior switch or coded driver's door keypad. The emergency release is an illuminated handle inside the loadbox while a locking manual override is in the passenger-side rear wheel housing.

Electric controls raise the cover to a height of six feet, eight inches (just over two metres) and safety sensors reverse the motor if an obstruction is detected.

The trunk's interior walls are lined with stainless steel fitted with PVC rub strips. LED light strips either side accent the join between the sides and cargo floor and there are tie-down rings, a storage bin each side and open bins in each Dutch door.

Lincoln added luxury equipment to Ford's Explorer to create the Navigator SUV back in '98 and the Blackwood follows a similar theme: take what is essentially a big Ford F-series double-cab pickup and add extras.

2002 Lincoln Blackwood truck

On goes that unique loadbox, a huge Lincoln grille, fog lamps, chromed door handles, side mirrors (with built-in indicator lights) and fuel-filler door plus 18-inch wheels with low-profile tyres.

In goes a 300bhp 5.4-litre, 32-valve dual overhead cam V-8, four black leather chairs (the front pair heated or cooled at occupant request), and every luxury item you can think of including steering wheel-mounted stereo and climate controls, seven-speaker Alpine audio system with subwoofer and six-CD changer, automatic climate control and auto-shutoff headlamps.

There's also dark-stained crystal oak wood trim and a wood-'n'-leather steering wheel.

Underneath is a load-levelling hybrid air and leaf-spring rear suspension which allows up to 8,700 pounds (about 4,100kg) to be towed, and a limited-slip differential.

Later this year, the Blackwood will get the Visco-Lok hydraulic torque transfer system which has seven times the torque transfer capability of a conventional limited-slip differential and transfers more torque as it senses increasing wheelspin.

Safety equipment includes four airbags, height-adjustable seatbelt mounts, fasten-belts reminder and reverse sensing systems plus three-channel, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

A passive anti-theft system with coded ignition key and a perimeter alarm are also standard and the driver can disable the interior release buttons for the tonneau cover when valet parking.

A 300bhp 5.4-litre, 32-valve dual overhead cam V-8 provides the power

Production at Ford's Kansas City assembly plant in Claycomo, Missouri, will be limited to less than 10,000 units per year, in order to maintain exclusivity, something that the $US52,500 price tag should also ensure. Satellite navigation is the sole factory option at $1,995.

This monster truck would make little sense outside North America, where it would take up almost two parking spaces in most cities and couldn't even be parked legally in some London residential areas.

But it seems well tailored for the select groupf of wealthy, truck-loving Americans to which Irvine, California-based Lincoln is pitching.

The division claims its shift in emphasis from softly-riding luxurymobiles to the sporty LS sedan and Navigator SUV has lured new customers and hiked sales.

Lincoln volume in 2000 was the best since 1990 while 70 percent of Navigator customers and 60 percent of LS owners had never owned a Lincoln before.

Better yet, the median age of these customers is in the mid-50s - substantially lower than the mid-60s median age of Lincoln's traditional luxury segment customers.

"German cars have a distinctive character, so do British and Japanese cars. American luxury and Lincoln are about having products that are equal to the best in the world in engineering and quality terms, but totally unique - and unabashedly American - in the way they drive, in they way the look and feel," says Lincoln Mercury president Mark Hutchins.

Chimes in Blackwood brand manager Lisa Bacus: "Every time we took a prototype on the road, we seemed to spend more time talking to people than actually driving."

"It's an image and lifestyle vehicle, but one with great utility and functionality," she says.

"It can easily tow a large boat or horse trailer one day, and take a foursome to the golf course the next."

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Global market for automotive turbochargers and superchargers: Forecasts to 2005

Automotive b2b - Strategic threats and opportunities in the automotive supply chain