Ford Airstream Concept
Ford's Silver Bullet Blends Transportation History with Future Vision
By Dan Prescott
One of the showstoppers on the 2007 auto show circuit is Ford’s gleaming Airstream Concept vehicle. Initially, Ford and Airstream seem to be an unlikely alliance. But both companies are iconic mainstays of American transportation history, and have been hitched together (physically, not officially) since a Ford V8 Sedan surely pulled one of the first Airstream Clipper travel trailers in the late 1930’s. Even at Ford’s press conference at the Detroit Auto Show, after the unveiling of the Ford Airstream concept, the newly redesigned Ford Super Duty F-Series pickup was introduced, showing off its impressive new towing capability by driving onto the stage pulling a new Airstream trailer.
Exterior design manager Jordan Bennett told RVmotoring.com that the inspiration for the Ford Airstream Concept was “American Travel,” where the journey is as important as the destination. “We wanted to stir the imagination and spark a person’s passion for travel by capturing the essence of a pioneering icon like Airstream,” Bennett said. “Love for the open road and the travel experience itself should make a trip memorable and enjoyable.”
Ford’s unusual Airstream Concept vehicle pays homage to the “Silver Bullet” stainless steel travel trailers, produced for 76 years. However, the little crossover/space-pod vehicle is not clad in riveted sheet aluminum. Rather, Ford developed a highly reflective paint that looks remarkably similar to aluminum, and a token 12 rivets are included in subtle details around the vehicle. Bennett also points out the Airstream’s porthole windows with illuminated surrounds - red in the rear and orange on the side windows. Why orange? “It’s hunter’s orange,” Jordan explained, “like an outdoorsman would wear on a hunting trip in the wilderness.”
The Airstream company provided its input to the creation of the concept vehicle. “Airstream was involved from a very early stage, and the evidence can be seen in some of the features of the vehicle, like the reflective paint, the rivets, and some of the clever storage solutions,” explained Bob Wheeler, Airstream President and CEO. “But the real influence was in the shared values of optimism, wanderlust, a sense of adventure, the call of the open road, and a product that was fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This vehicle and the Airstream trailer are soul mates.
“Airstream wants to continue finding new options for tomorrow’s road trips. Our success comes from challenging the conventional thinking about what defines an Airstream. The Ford Airstream Concept is a stunning example of just that,” Wheeler said.
The Airstream Concept’s groovy interior is cocoon-like, completely lined in red, with white, swiveling front seats. Its inviting interior is complete with 360-degree mini cylindrical screen that can be set to show a lava lamp, campfire, videos or live camera feed. “Through the materials, color palette and technology, the Ford Airstream Concept has distinct cues from the spacecraft and environments portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey,” says Freeman Thomas, director, North American Strategic Design at Ford. “We’re able to maximize the spaciousness of the interior, creating a lounge atmosphere in contrasting colors of cosmic red and white that provides an inviting experience for the ultimate journey.” Despite the late 1960’s Stanley Kubrick inspiration, the overall result is absolutely futuristic, while maintaining a level of comfortable practicality.
Just as unique as the funky-cool exterior styling is the advanced prototype powertrain. Called HySeries Drive, a hydrogen hybrid fuel cell provides electrical power to a 336-volt lithium-ion battery pack. Rather than operating as the primary power source to drive the wheels, as is typical in a fuel cell-powered car, the Airstream’s fuel cell serves as a generator, coming on when necessary to charge the batteries. The vehicle can also be recharged by plugging it into an electrical outlet. In pure electric mode, the Airstream can travel 25 miles before the hydrogen-powered fuel cell kicks in to recharge the battery pack. With the fuel cell, the range increases another 280 miles for a total of 305 miles. And, like any good RV, there is plenty of power while parked, as the fuel cell will engage as necessary to maintain a minimum battery charge. Ford says HySeries Drive is beyond the concept stage; a Ford Edge prototype is already testing the powertrain.
Will the Ford Airstream reach production? Not likely. A carmaker uses a vehicle like this to showcase its design talents and explore what’s possible in a future vehicle. But, who knows? We may see some aspects of the Ford Airstream’s design or engineering in Fords of the future.
Overall length: 185.0 in.
Wheelbase: 125.9 in.
Overall width: 78.9 in.
Overall height: 70.6 in.
Front: Double wishbone-independent suspension
Rear: Multi-link independent