Contrary to media reports, the upcoming ’09 Ford Flex cross/utility vehicle is not a replacement for the auto maker’s discontinued minivan lineup, the new vehicle’s marketing manager says.

“This vehicle (the Flex) is extremely different,” says Kate Pearce, Flex marketing manager. “I wouldn’t say we’re specifically going after any particular vehicle owner type. If (customers are) currently in a minivan or a SUV and looking for something different, I think it’s a great opportunity and great vehicle for them.”

Although the production version of the Flex looks much like the Ford Fairlane concept, on which it is based, it lacks the suicide doors that made the concept unique and helped fan speculation the CUV was a replacement for the discontinued Ford Freestar and Mercury minivans.

Unlike traditional doors, which are normally hinged on the A- and B- pillars of a 4-door vehicle, suicide doors are hinged on the trailing edge closer to the rear of the vehicle.

And when all four doors are opened, the entire side of the vehicle is more easily accessible, creating a large opening like those associated with traditional sliding side doors on minivans.

The prevailing thought was that suicide doors would be a creative alternative to a minivan’s sliding doors and separate the Flex from the stigma attached to the traditional family haulers. When it came time to design the production version of the Flex, however, the suicide doors were left out of the equation.

“They were definitely an interesting component to the Fairlane, but we don’t think we’re missing an opportunity without suicide doors,” Pearce says. “We think we’ve brought to market something stronger and more appealing.”

Pricing for the Flex, slated to go on sale in the U.S. in summer 2008, has yet to be announced. However, Pearce says it will be in line with its main competitors, which she says are the GMC Acadia and the Honda Pilot.

Pearce disputes allegations the Flex will cannibalize sales from the Ford Freestyle CUV, which, like the Flex, seats seven.

The Flex, she says, is aimed at an entirely different customer than the Freestyle, which will be renamed the Taurus X for ’08.

The Flex “is a very modern, forward-looking vehicle with unique exterior and interior features that may not appeal to more traditional customers that like the Freestyle,” she says, adding the car is larger than the Ford Edge CUV, so overlap won’t occur with that product either.

Pearce says Ford is in the early stages of developing a marketing campaign along with JWT (formerly J. Walter Thompson), the auto maker’s ad agency of record.

“There are a lot of plans under way,” she says. “But (the campaign) will be something in line with Ford’s Bold Moves campaign.”

bpope@wardsauto.com