As Job One is just around the corner for Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Blackwood, supplier Magna International Inc. largely has kept its role in the launch secret so as not to take credit away from its automaker customer.

Lincoln tapped Magna to join the “program team” in developing its '02 Blackwood luxury sport/utility vehicle because the division needed engineering assistance in preparing the vehicle for production, Lincoln Mercury President Mark Hutchins tells WAW. He says Magna's engineering role with the Blackwood is much like that of the Special Vehicle Team, which has been responsible for launching Ford's high-performance models.

But Magna's design involvement in Blackwood is deep. Sources from various companies close to the program say that Magna engineers made the vehicle wider, lower riding and lighter. Magna also modified the interior, designed a new suspension (see story, p.40) and produces a big chunk of the vehicle: the distinctive small pickup bed.

Magna played a similar program manager role in converting a Ford Expedition into what became the Navigator, in 1997. Mr. Hutchins says Magna was chosen for Blackwood for its engineering expertise, and because Lincoln has a lot of new product in the pipeline in the next 18 months, including a new Town Car, “Baby” Navigator and Grand Marquis and a “significant redo” of fullsize Navigator and LS.

Ford will assemble Blackwood in Claycomo, MO, near Kansas City, on the same line as F-Series and SuperCrew pickups. Magna will assemble the pickup box at a plant nearby and ship it directly to the assembly plant.

The box is a combination of steel and composites, with body side panels produced from an acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) substrate covered with a film to look like wood. Blackwood will be in showrooms this summer, priced at $52,500. Mr. Hutchins says Lincoln's goal is to produce 18,000 units in 18 months.