Chicago—The most unusual item at this year's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show was not a new dishwasher, bathtub, or stove, but rather a minivan. It doesn't have a kitchen sink, but that's about all you won't find inside the Windstar Solutions concept vehicle, a joint project between Ford and Maytag.
Included are: two refrigerators, a cooler, combination washer/dryer, a microwave, a wet/dry utility vacuum, trash compactor, multiple entertainment and communications systems, hot and cold cup holders…the list goes on, but you get the idea.
Solutions is the brainchild of Linda Lee, manager of Ford's women's marketing and product office, following a call from a former colleague now at Maytag, about the possibility of the two companies doing a joint project. This was last January, and in just over two months the team put together a mockup.
"We looked at consumer research and asked people, 'What do you want in a car that you can't have now?'" says Lee. But within limits, of course. "There's no oven, no range top. We did not do a grill," she says. "We had a pretty good idea we were over the top with the two refrigerators, and we knew we were over the top with the washer/dryer.
"We know how these appliances are used in the home, in motor homes, and in airplanes and boats," says Lee. She notes that power is provided to RVs and boats by plugging them in when not moving, a convenience that the driver of an everyday vehicle can't count on. Lee also says that the team wanted to provide appliances that could be used on a daily basis, not just on vacations once or twice a year.
"Normally the appliance industry doesn't do a concept," says Lee. "Usually what you see is a finished product." But finished or not, working or otherwise, the Solutions has received a great amount of attention from both the press and consumers. It's safe to say that people want it. But interest is one thing, building this complex a vehicle at a competitive price is another matter.
"We've had tons of volunteers, but we haven't even discussed doing a working model," says Lee. "We're still trying to get our arms around where we would put things, and what kind of vehicle we'd put it in." And designers would have to figure out how to furnish power and water.
Whatever the Windstar Solutions turns out to be, the appliance technology could see broader application throughout the Ford line. Consumers might be able to get a full complement of appliances for a new Expedition, or just a small sampling—probably not the washer/dryer—for their Taurus.