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Credit: Ford

In these difficult times for the U.S. motor industry, Ford is evidently hoping that it can win back customers with technology that could take some of the stress out of getting behind the wheel. The company’s new Active Park Assist system automatically maneuvers a vehicle into even the tightest parking space.

Parallel parking on a crowded city street is no easy task. Take it from me: the streets of Boston make the “friendly bumper bump” a common affair (and I admit, I’ve been a perpetrator as often as I’ve been a victim). To simplify the task, many newer vehicles are equipped with an optional electronic parking assist system–something that my 2002 Honda Civic unfortunately does not have. The two most common systems use an array of sensors on the bumper to trigger a beep when you get too close to an object, and video cameras that send pictures to a navigation screen in the dashboard. Some of the pictures even suggest a steering direction.

Ford’s Active Park Assist is similar to a Toyota feature called Intelligent Parking Assist that was first available on the 2007 Lexus LX, but in Toyota’s system, the driver still has to identify the exact parking spot using a navigation screen, as well as operate the brake.

The video below is a demonstration of how Ford’s system works. Here’s a description from the press release:

– The driver activates the system by pressing an instrument panel button, which activates the ultrasonic sensors to measure and identify a feasible parallel parking space.

– The system then prompts the driver to accept the system assistance to park.

– The steering system then takes over and steers the car into the parking space hands-free. The driver still shifts the transmission and operates the gas and brake pedals.

– A visual and/or audible driver interface advises the driver about the proximity of other cars, objects and people and provides instructions.

– While the steering is all done automatically, the driver remains responsible for safe parking and can interrupt the system by grasping the steering wheel.

Ford’s system will be available in mid-2009 as options on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and new Lincoln MKT crossover, but the company says that by 2012, 90 percent of Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models will be equipped with the technology.

Video by Ford

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