• 'Ingenious' hinged front doors and sliding rear doors integrate the central body pillars, providing 'unrivalled access' for passengers and luggage
  • 'Game-changing solution' said to be culmination of intensive collaboration between designers and engineers to transform a tentative first sketch into a fundamental feature of the production-ready car
  • 'Easy door access system makes loading bulky items, or helping children in and out of the car in tight spaces, a breeze, as well as delivering excellent crash protection' automaker says
Centre pillar is integrated into doors

Centre pillar is integrated into doors

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Ford recently has been drip-feeding out details of its interesting new Fiesta-based B-Max MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) and on Friday released information about what it claims is the new car's unique fixed pillar-less door system claimed to allow "unrivalled ease of access".

The so called 'easy access door system' integrates the central body pillars into the doors of the 'multi-activity vehicle' to create 1.5m wide unobstructed openings on either side of the car.

Most rear door openings provide around half that space, according to Ford, which said the rival GM Europe Opel/Vauxhall Meriva’s rear-hinged rear doors offers maximum access less than 0.7m wide.

“Door systems like this have been a designer’s dream for many years,” said Stefan Lamm, exterior design director, at Ford of Europe. “We have taken the concept from an idea on a designer’s sketch pad, to a stylish and versatile product on the showroom floor.”

“We set ourselves the challenge of re-imagining the small car,” he added. “People are struggling with the spatial challenges of city driving and we wanted to find a new solution.”

In developing the concept, a team spent several days observing drivers in their daily routine to understand exactly what customers really wanted in a compact car.

Engineers then took on the challenge of producing a safe and practical vehicle which would meet those needs. They moved the high-strength body-structure from the central body pillars and integrated it directly into the doors to ensure excellent crash protection particularly in the event of a side impact.

Ultra-high-strength steels, which provide up to five times the strength of conventional mild steel, were used in key parts of the body and doors to create an extremely strong and stiff structure without adding extra weight.

The process involved intense testing and analysis at every stage. More than 1,000 detailed computer simulations were conducted over three years to optimise side impact crash performance; each simulation taking 24 hours to complete. These simulations were then tested in the real world through a further 50 physical side impact crashes.

“We engineered the body to keep all the benefits of the new door concept, while making the structure strong, stiff and light,” said Darren Palmer, product development quality director. “Creating a strong, stable body is great for handling. The B-Max is just as stiff as the latest Fiesta, and will be just as fun to drive too.”

Other interior convenience features include rear seats and a front passenger seat which fold flat to create a large, load platform to accommodate everything from bicycles to flat-pack furniture.

“The door concept means you can load really large items, more than 2.3m long, through the side doors,” said Ernst Reim, chief interior designer. “This makes a trip to the furniture store, or even a day at the beach with your surfboard, more realistic.”

The B-Max - essentially a replacement for the similar size, previous generation Fiesta-based European Fusion model - makes its public debut at Geneva next month and goes on sale in Europe later in the year.

It will be interesting to see how the new door system stands up in consumer use. Sliding side door systems on MPVs - broadly the European equivalent of North American minivans but usually considerably smaller - are rare apart from the large PSA models and their Fiat Group clones, the Mazda 5 and passenger-carrying 'combi' versions of small van lines. Engineers have previously told just-auto sliding door systems add weight and cost, are tricky to install and adjust, and also increase the risk of rattles and, over time, misalignment.

But, as any parent who has tried to load children into rear-mounted child seats in a narrow European shopping centre car park space knows, rear sliders sure are convenient - even more so if they can be opened electrically using a key fob.

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