DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co.’s new Grand C-Max cross/utility vehicle, unveiled alongside a revamped C-Max today at the Frankfurt auto show, will launch in North America in late 2011.

Available in Europe since 2003, the C-Max has been a hot seller, and until now Ford has been tightlipped about whether the CUV ever would grace North American shores.

While the traditional C-Max is a 2-row vehicle that seats five, the Grand C-Max boasts three rows and seating for seven.

Both are based on Ford’s new C-car platform, which eventually will underpin 10 new models, including the new Focus arriving in North American next year. The architecture annually will account for more than 2 million new cars globally by 2012.

The Grand C-Max features twin rear sliding doors and is expected to fill a “white space” in the North American market, meaning it has no direct competitors, says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development.

During an auto show preview here, Kuzak displays a graph indicating where the Grand C-Max will reside in North American vehicle segments. While it stands alone, the Mazda5 and Kia Rondo CUVs are close by in the graph.

He declines to predict volumes for the new car, but notes North America’s automotive landscape is beginning to emulate Europe’s. As such, the new CUV will be catching this transition at an “opportune time.”

The tracks for the sliding rear doors were designed to be inconspicuous in order to avoid a minivan-like appearance, Kuzak says.

“The (functionality of the) sliding rear doors were very important to me, but they had to have very distinctive styling,” he says.

The Grand C-Max is not a “refrigerator on wheels like most people-carriers,” Kuzak adds, noting no decision has been made as to where the North American Grand C-Max will be built.

He also declines to reveal whether the Grand C-Max will retain its name in North America, saying that decision is up to the “marketing guys.”

When it initially launched in Europe, the C-Max was dubbed the Focus C-Max in order to build familiarity among consumers, but the Focus moniker eventually was dropped.

“If you think about how Europe launched it, there are some lessons learned,” hints Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer.

To maximize space in the Grand C-Max, Ford engineers developed a new folding mechanism for the second row that allows the center seat to fold under one of the two outboard seats, creating a walk-through space between them.

Ford has yet to reveal what engine will power the North American C-Max, but in Europe the CUV will come with a new direct-injected, turbocharged, EcoBoost 1.6L 4-cyl., expected to produce 180 hp and 170 lb.-ft. (125 Nm) of torque.

The 1.6L EcoBoost mill will be built at Bridgend engine plant in Wales, U.K.

Ford currently offers a 3.5L V-6 EcoBoost engine in North America – built in Brook Park, OH. It recently announced a 2.0L version would debut next year in Europe and North America. The 2.0L engine will be produced at Ford’s Valencia, Spain, engine plant.

By 2013, more than 90% of Ford’s North American lineup will be available with EcoBoost technology, and nearly 80% of Ford’s global nameplates will offer an EcoBoost option.

“EcoBoost technology gives us everything: a combination of the performance buyers expect and fuel-economy improvements they demand that, until now, only has been achievable with the latest-generation turbodiesel powertrains,” Kuzak says.

Both versions of the European C-Max will be built at Valencia and will be available in major European markets by late 2010.

Also at Frankfurt, Ford pulls the wraps off a European version of its Ford Focus electric vehicle, which will be used in the U.K. government’s “Ultra-Low Carbon Vehicles” demonstration initiative next year.

The program is designed to test the technology’s suitability for future application in Ford’s European lineup.

A consortium composed of Ford, Scottish Energy and Strathclyde University will use the fleet of 15 prototype EVs and a charging infrastructure in and around the London Borough of Hillingdon in 2010.

Ford and supplier partner Magna International Inc. plan to offer a Focus EV for sale in North America in 2011. Kuzak declines to reveal whether the vehicle ever will be sold in Europe, but notes the testing program also will gauge the region’s acceptance of the technology.

Ford also uses the Frankfurt stage to unveil the new version of its ECOnetic 1.6L diesel. Found in the Focus ECOnetic 5-door and wagon versions, the mill comes with Ford’s new optional start/stop technology and targets 99 g/km average carbon-dioxide emissions and a 62 mpg (3.8 L/100 km) fuel-economy rating.

The Focus ECOnetic is the first European Ford to offer the auto maker’s new Auto-Start-Stop System, which combines automotive engine start/stop operation with regenerative charging and advanced battery management systems.

“The new Focus ECOnetic is particularly significant as it paves the way for some of these technologies to be implemented into our core vehicle series in the near future,” says Thilo Seibert, manager of CO2 technologies for Ford of Europe.

While Ford offers a similar start/stop system in its North American hybrid-electric vehicles, officials decline to reveal whether the technology will make its way into non-hybrid North American models.

bpope@wardsauto.com