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Concept Car of the Week: Ford Synergy 2010 (1996)

Fri, 26 Sep 2014

In the early 1990s, the US government instigated the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles research program (PNGV). This brought Ford, GM and Chrysler together to collaborate in developing cars that could achieve up to 80mpg, and be ready to market by 2003.

While working on the PNGV, in 1996 Ford introduced the Synergy 2010, featuring the firm's 'New Edge' design that debuted a year earlier with the GT90 concept. Its clean surfaces and sharp edges were in stark contrast to the third-generation Taurus, launched in the same year as the Synergy, which featured a controversial bio-design.

The concept's dramatic, blade-like front fenders take off from the two horizontal elements on the car's nose: an idea derived from a race car's splitter and front wing. The fenders cut through the air and funnel it over the ultra-low hood and along the side of the car. They also housed cameras that replaced the rear-view mirrors. The fenders finished abruptly at the leading edges of each front door, leaving a vertical gap between their trailing edge and the body.

This unusual construction, combined with semi-faired rear wheels and a long, teardrop silhouette, meant the Synergy had a drag coefficient of only 0.20, or around 40 percent better than the Taurus, which was Ford's most aerodynamic model at the time.

The all-glass roof had integrated solar cells that power an air-extractor fan, keeping the car cool when parked in the sun. A full-width strip of light finished the rounded and tapered tail, below which a functional diffuser was mounted.

The pillarless suicide doors opened to an uncluttered cabin for up to six passengers, sitting in a 3+3 layout. The dashboard was fitted with three screens plus a head-up display in front of the driver. The steering wheel resembled an airplane's yoke, providing the driver with a clearer view of the gauges, while the steering column was attached to a cantilevered arm, making the car easily adaptable for manufacture as either right- or left-hand-drive. The interior also had a strong emphasis placed on voice-activated controls, with 18 functions operated by voice commands removing the need for many buttons and knobs.

To reduce fuel usage, the Synergy's body was made from aluminum, reinforced with high-strength steel and composites, which kept the weight down to just under a tonne - or around a third lighter than an equivalent mid-size sedan.

While not a drivable vehicle, the Synergy explored alternative efficiency concepts that were some way away from production at the time. Although lobbying from the carmakers meant the PNGV was disbanded in 2001, many of the innovations the concept featured have since become a reality.

First seen 1996 Detroit Auto Show
Length 5,176mm
Width 1,861mm
Height 1,349mm
Weight 998kg
Engine Rear-mounted 1.0-liter four-cylinder, diesel, methanol or gas engine; wheel-mounted electric motors, front-mounted flywheel
Fuel economy 80mpg

What else happened in 1996?
If you went to the movies in 1996, it was action all the way, with the top three films of the year being Mission: Impossible, Twister and the top-grossing Independence Day. GM's EV1 became the first modern electric car, with a range of around 80 miles, while Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, was born. A year after meeting at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin created a search engine called BackRub, the predecessor to Google.

By Flavien Dachet