Monday, February 2, 2009

Newest Ford luxury: car parallel parks itself


With the touch of a button, Lincoln MKS and MKT drivers can parallel park quickly, easily and safely without ever touching the steering wheel. Called Active Park Assist, the device will be available by midyear on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and the new 2010 MKT crossover utility vehicle.

Can high-tech gadgetry drive Ford Motor Co.’s product revitalization?

Apparently the automaker hopes so as it plans to introduce this year on two Lincoln models such innovations as a system that will steer a car into a parallel parking space all by itself.
Called Active Park Assist, the device will be available by midyear on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and the new 2010 MKT crossover utility vehicle.

“With the touch of a button, Lincoln MKS and MKT drivers can parallel park quickly, easily and safely without ever touching the steering wheel,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president for global product development.


The SYNC system is a hands-free interface for cellphones and iPods or other MP3 music players that Ford developed in conjunction with Microsoft. The system was introduced on the redesigned Ford Focus for 2008, but has since been made standard or available on a number of additional Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

MKS models also come with Ford’s new capless gas tank, as well as Sirius Travel Link. In conjunction with the navigation system, Travel Link brings to the system’s dash-mounted screen “up-to-the-minute information” on gasoline prices and the closest stations, as well as movie listings and sports scores.


Other technology Ford offers on the MKS includes radar cruise control, adaptive headlights and an intelligent-key system with pushbutton start, all three of which already are available on a number of competitive vehicles from other automakers, mostly luxury models from Japan and Europe.


Even the Active Park Assist is not a new idea; Toyota introduced a similar system on its flagship Lexus LS sedan two years ago.

But these new technologies will be showing up on Ford vehicles for the first time, adding some panache to the Lincoln brand, which has been languishing for lack of new and interesting product.


Ford says Active Park Assist will allow drivers to parallel park “with the touch of a button and without ever touching the steering wheel.”

When the driver pulls up to a potential parking space, and the parking button is pushed, the system uses ultrasonic sensors to measure the space, determine whether the car will fit, and then guide the vehicle into the space.

It’s not a system completely without driver interaction, however. The driver still has to operate the accelerator and brake pedals to get the vehicle into the parking space, which does leave some room for error, especially on uphill or downhill slopes. But Ford says the system will work on hills, not just on level ground.

I can’t wait to try it in a place like San Francisco, where parallel parking spaces abound on the steep residential streets leading down to the bay.

The Ford system is made possible on the two new Lincoln models by the addition of electric power steering, which uses its own dedicated electric motor to operate the power steering rather than using the traditional hydraulic system that takes its power from a drive belt connected to the vehicle’s engine.