At a time when U.S. carmakers are fighting for their very lives, Ford is introducing a technology that it apparently believes will give it a competitive edge — a car that parks itself.

"The often stressful and frustrating task of parallel parking soon will be as easy as pressing a button for owners of the Lincoln MKS flagship sedan and all-new Lincoln MKT seven-passenger luxury crossover, thanks to an exclusive new technology from Ford Motor Company called Active Park Assist," Ford said in a press release.

Available in mid-2009 as an option on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and new Lincoln MKT crossover, Ford says Active Park Assist uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system and Electric Power Assisted Steering to position the vehicle for parallel parking, calculate the optimal steering angle and quickly steer the vehicle into a parking spot.

"With the touch of a button, Lincoln MKS and MKT drivers can parallel park quickly, easily and safely without ever touching the steering wheel," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of Global Product Development. "This is another example of exclusive Ford smart technology, such as Ford SYNC, that makes the driving experience easier and more enjoyable for our customers."

Ford said the new technology uses sensors on the front and rear of the vehicle to guide the vehicle into a parking space. It says the technology is "a major leap forward" in speed and ease of use compared with the camera-reliant systems offered by competitors, including a video camera-based system offered by Lexus. Ford says its system requires less driver interface and reduces the risk of selecting a parking spot that is too tight. Ford's Active Park Assist also works in downhill parking situations, unlike competing systems, the automaker said.

Active Park Assist begins when 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 said the technology also improves fuel economy up to five percent, while reducing CO2 emissions, and enhancing steering performance compared with traditional hydraulic powered-assisted steering systems.