GENEVA – Ford will not compromise its product rollouts as a hedge against Europe’s economic slump, the U.S. auto maker’s CEO says.

“We’re never going to back off on investment in new vehicles,” Alan Mulally tells journalists on the sidelines of the auto show here.

The pledge comes amid fears Ford’s European operations could lose as much as E457 million ($600 million) this year against a backdrop of a sovereign debt crisis that has left many governments teetering on the brink of insolvency.

“We have never backed off” on product-development investment, Mulally says, adding Ford’s outlay has been and remains on a steady upward trajectory.

The auto maker plans to spend E4.2 billion-E4.6 billion ($5.5 billion-$6 billion) this year, some 28% more than 2011’s E3.3 billion ($4.3 billion) and 41% more than 2010’s E3 billion ($3.9 billion).

“There are other areas of the business where we can try to become more efficient,” says Barb Samardzich, Ford of Europe’s vice president-product development. “Delaying equipment purchases is one.” But product cutbacks “sacrifice what keeps you special.”

Ford makes a case for its distinctiveness here with the world premiere of the B-Max, a B-segment, 5-passenger people-mover equipped with rear sliding doors. Unencumbered by B-pillars, the rear-passenger opening is 4.6-ft. (1.4-m) wide. Structural integrity is ensured by incorporating additional high-strength steel.

Crashworthiness was confirmed using more than 1,000 computer-aided simulations and 50 physical side-impact tests, the auto maker says.

The rear seats and the front passenger seat can be folded down to create a flat load surface that makes the B-segment vehicle an ideal solution for urban motorists, says Stefan Lamm, exterior design director-Ford of Europe.

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

The B-Max, which arrives in dealerships later this year, is one of nine Ford of Europe launches in 2012. It also will be the first European-market vehicle to feature Ford’s Sync infotainment system.

The voice-activated system has been configured to comprehend a number of different languages spoken in Europe, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Turkish, Dutch and Russian.

B-Max buyers have a choice of five engines, including Ford’s new 1.0L turbocharged 3-cyl. EcoBoost mill that features direct injection and is available with outputs of 100 hp or 120 hp.

The latter emits just 114 g/km of carbon dioxide and achieves a fuel-economy rating of 57.6 mpg (4.9 L/100 km).

Ford also shines a spotlight on its van-segment ambitions by introducing the 8-passenger Tourneo Custom Concept.

Featuring multi-adjustable and removable rear seating, advanced Sync voice-activated connectivity and a 2.2L low-CO2 emitting Duratorq TDCi diesel engine, the show van previews a range of people-movers and global commercial vehicles due from Ford later this year.

Other launches that will occupy Samardzich’s 2012 agenda include ST versions of the Focus and Fiesta small cars and the Kuga midsize cross/utility vehicle.

“What happened when (Detroit) competitors hit their very severe downturn and went bankrupt (was) a lot of people turned to the Ford showroom,” where they were greeted with fresh product, a testimony to Ford’s investments, she says.

“It’s basically the same thing here (in Europe). We want to make sure when the economy turns around (and) customers come back, our showroom has product that they’re going to love.”

emayne@wardsauto.com