More stories related to 2005 NAIAS SANTA MONICA – If America’s forecasted demographic shift back to urban living should happen to materialize, Ford Motor Co.’s latest B-segment teaser could signal what city-dwellers will be demanding by 2010.

The auto maker’s SYNus concept, based on the Fiesta platform employed in Europe, Asia and South America – where small cars are considered essential due to parking restrictions or high fuel prices – rips a page from Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion playbook, stretching and massaging the subcompact package into a boxy city crawler fit for customization.

Ford’s product-creation team recently wrapped up a B-segment feasibility study for the U.S. market that spanned much of 2004, with the auto maker doing such things as setting fuel economy targets and market testing concepts in front of buyer groups, Barb Samardzich, executive director-small front- and rear-drive cars, tells Ward’s during a Mustang convertible media drive here.

SYNus takes Ford tough to next level.

Samardzich does not reference the SYNus directly, but says the auto maker included the Fiesta-based EcoSport, sold in Brazil, as part of its B-segment study. (See related story: Ford’s Subcompact Study Soldiers On)

Like the SYNus, the EcoSport carries an upright, SUV-like stance in a petite package, and consumers say they like it because it communicates toughness while staying practical.

She says the auto maker aims to have a B-segment player before 2010, by which time Ford says the majority of U.S. consumers will live in urban areas, potentially sparking at least a mild migration away from massive SUVs toward the smaller B-cars. A predicted spike in the rise of fuel prices also will drive the trend, Samardzich says.

The 2L diesel-powered SYNus funnels Ford’s tough-truck heritage into the small-car segment, lifting cues from bank vault armored cars and, some might say, the popular milk-truck-like Scion xB. The vehicle’s 18-in. wheels further the “big player in a little package” argument.

SYNus, designed by Jose Paris, picks up on Joe Baker’s Bronco design from last year and could be built on the same platform as the Bronco if given the go-ahead.

The bulk of the SYNus’ personality is defined by purely conceptual features that are far from being production-ready, if production feasible at all: Protective shutters shroud windshield and side glass when the vehicle is parked in secure mode; small bulletproof windows that don’t open flank the rear and roof; and no window dresses the rear hatch, which only can be opened by a vault-like, rotating combination dial. A similar dial dresses the B-pillar for opening the car doors.

The interior, dressed with a number of cues found on college design projects, is set up to be an urban sanctuary, with sliding seat configurations, a steering wheel that folds flush in the dash and a gargantuan liquid-crystal-display television in the tailgate.

Ford says it is the largest flat screen LCD ever mounted in a vehicle, and it offers a choice of Internet surfing, movie viewing or a look at what’s going on outside the vehicle via onboard cameras.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com