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Ford Expands Hybrid Success to Electric Vehicles

Posted Apr 01 2009 12:58pm

By John Addison. Toyota’s (TM) global market share leadership has been helped by the success of its hybrids. Looking to a future that will increasingly emphasize fuel economy and lower emissions, Toyota will put 500 plug-in hybrid Priuses on the road in 2009.

Competition is just getting started in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. One company that Toyota must watch carefully is Ford (F). It is Ford with the world’s most fuel-efficient SUV - the Ford Escape Hybrid. It is Ford that is now selling a mid-sized hybrid which can be driven to 47 mph in electric vehicle mode – the Ford Fusion Hybrid. It is Ford that is successfully testing the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid with major electrical utilities across the nation. It is Ford, not Toyota, which will be selling commercial electric vehicles in the United States in 2010.

“In 10 years, 12 years, you are going to see a major portion of our portfolio move to electric vehicles,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said at the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara, California, this month. Ford will start selling commercial electric vehicle in 2010, a sedan EV in 2011, and a plug-in hybrid in 2012. “You’ll see more hybrids, but you will really see a lot more electric vehicles,” he said. Reuters

Last week, I discussed Ford’s plans with Nancy Gioia, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs at Ford.

This is the fifth year of success for the Ford Escape Hybrid and its cousins the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute Hybrid. The vehicle has enough passenger room and cargo space to be popular with families to taxi fleets. The SUV delivers an impressive 32 mpg. It is the only SUV that could make the list of Clean Fleet Report’s Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Vehicles.

The new Ford Fusion Hybrid midsized sedan has an EPA certified 41 mpg rating in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, making it even more fuel efficient with less CO2e emissions than the Escape Hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid is powered by both an electric motor and by a 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle I-4 Hybrid engine. The advanced intake variable cam timing allows the Fusion and Milan hybrids to more seamlessly transition between gas and electric modes. The Fusion has a continuously variable transmission.

Fuel economy is not only a function of what we drive, but how we drive. Ford conducted a study that resulted in an average of 24 percent improvement in fuel economy when typical drivers were coached by eco-driving experts. With the Fusion, Ford introduces SmartGauge™ with EcoGuide, which coaches hybrid drivers to maximize fuel efficiency. In the future, SmartGauge will be included in a number of Ford vehicles.

In addition to the visual feedback with SmartGauge, the new Fusion Hybrid includes Ford’s MyKey™, a programmable feature that allows drivers, parents, or fleet owners to limit top speed and audio volume of vehicles, and set speed alert chimes to encourage safer driving. Tire pressure monitoring is another new feature that helps improve mileage.

United States Infrastructure Company (USIC), a utility services business that operates a fleet of 3,500 vehicles nationwide, could benefit from using MyKey, said Phil Samuelson, USIC purchasing and asset manager. The company uses many Ford vehicles, and its drivers put an average of 24,000 miles on each vehicle every year. “Operating a fleet equipped with MyKey technology could be great for our business and our drivers,” Samuelson said. “By encouraging safety belt use and limiting the top speed and audio volume on our vehicles, we’d be better able to protect our employees and our fleet investment while potentially saving fuel, too.”

What Ford is not offering in its hybrids and plug-in hybrids is a flexfuel engine. The U.S. flexfuel offerings from any automaker have failed to deliver respectable mileage when running on gasoline. Typically their mileage is reduced 27 percent when running on the E85 ethanol blend.

Ford may make hybrids even more affordable in 2010 with a new Focus hybrid or other hybrid 4-door sedan. By 2012, Ford will have a new more fuel efficient hybrid drive system. Currently, Ford hybrids use NiMH batteries. The more expensive lithium-ion batteries are planned for the electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid offerings. By 2012, even the hybrid offerings may be lithium if a cost advantage can be secured. For 2012, Ford is evaluating battery technology and has not made final decisions, explained Nancy Gioia. Ford battery partner for the Escape PHEV is Johnson Controls-Saft (JCI, SGPEF).

A charging infrastructure will be critical to the success of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. “There are 247 million cars in the U.S., but only 53 million garages,” observes Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb Technologies. Because they need less range, urban dwellers are most likely to benefit from owning an EV, but least likely to own a garage. One U.C. Davis study determined that 80 percent of plug-in car owners want to charge more than once a day. That means we only have 12 percent of the charging stations that we need.

Electric utilities in many areas are not ready for the load of everyone in a neighborhood charging an EV, especially at peak-load hours. Utilities will want to encourage smart charging during the night, when excess electricity is often available. Since 2007, Ford has been working with utilities and research organizations to develop extensive data from demonstrations of prototype Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrids. Ford now has over ten partners including:

  • Southern California Edison
  • New York Power Authority
  • Consolidated Edison of New York
  • American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio
  • Alabama Power of Birmingham, Ala.; and its parent, Atlanta-based Southern Company
  • Progress Energy of Raleigh, N.C.
  • DTE Energy of Detroit
  • National Grid of Waltham, Mass.
  • New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, a state agency.
  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

Utilities need to lead with a smart-charging infrastructure and communications standards. In addition to Ford’s official plug-in demonstrations, fleets and communities have converted Ford Escape Hybrids to be plug-in. Google uses Escape plug-ins that are solar charged. Xcel is evaluating vehicle-to-grid in its Smart Grid City.

Drivers of the demonstration Ford Escape PHEV will make far fewer trips to the gas station. It uses common household current (120 volts) for charging, with a full charge of the battery completed within six to eight hours. Look for faster charging 220 volt on-board charger in the future. When driven on surface streets for the first 30 miles following a full charge, the Ford Escape PHEV can achieve up to 120 mpg – roughly 4.5 times its traditional gas internal combustion engine-powered counterpart. A fully charged Ford Escape PHEV operates in two modes, electric drive and blended electric/engine drive.

Commercial sales of the Ford Escape PHEV are planned for 2012. Ford is not waiting until 2012 to start selling battery electric vehicles.

In 2010, Ford also plans to begin sales of zero-emission battery-electric vans. To speed time to market, Ford will be collaborating with Tanfield’s Smith Electric Vehicles to offer battery-electric versions of the Ford Transit and Transit Connect commercial vehicles for fleet customers in the UK and European markets. Smith Electric Vehicles will build the Transit Connect in Kansas City, Missouri.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity is in offering a 4-door sedan that can achieve freeway speeds and has a range of at least 100 miles. In the typical U.S. household with two vehicles, one of those vehicles almost never travels over 40 miles in a day. In 2011, using Magna International (MGA) to do the power system assembly, Ford will offer a C-sized 4-door sedan electric vehicle with both 110 and 220 volt on-board charging. The battery supplier is to be determined.

Through continued advances and strategic partnerships in hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid, and battery- electric vehicles, Ford is positioned to compete and even lead in growth segments of the auto industry.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

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