Ford Motor Co will introduce a seven-passenger C-Max minivan to the North American market in 2012, a vehicle that is smaller than most current minivans in an effort aimed at young families.

The C-Max minivan built on the same platform as the Focus small sedan will be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

When you look at the C-Max, it's really for young families, those folks that are moving up from a compact sedans and those kinds of things, said Mark Fields, president of Ford in North and South America.

The U.S. and Canadian versions of the C-Max are an adaptation of the C-Max Ford has sold in Europe.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford vice president for global product development, said the new C-Max is an example of Ford's executing its One Ford plan worldwide.

It is built on the same platform as the Focus small sedan, which will be the base for at least 10 different models with varying top hats, Kuzak said.

More than 2 million Ford vehicles will be produced worldwide with this C-segment small-car platform by 2012, he said.

Since Chrysler introduced the minivan in the early 1980s, different versions of it have evolved. The C-Max is 178 inches long, about the same length as the minivans of three decades ago, Kuzak added.

Ford has not said how much the C-Max will cost, but said it will be competitive with small people carriers.

In what Ford is calling an industry first, the rear liftgate will be hands free. A key carried by someone will send an electronic signal to the car's computer which will allow a wave of a foot under and knee behind the rear of the car to automatically lift the rear door.

Both the knee and foot motion will be necessary to trip the door's opening, keeping accidental openings from occurring, Ford said.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall)