The 2006 Detroit Auto Show launched several new small cars into the U.S. market, including the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. And despite a truly gigantic Ford truck concept vehicle called the Super Chief—named after the historic locomotive, and almost as large—Ford’s most interesting concept was actually a small two-seater (with a third seat in the rear meant for a child).
The Ford Reflex—a silver sports coupe—also held by far the most unexpected variation in a hybrid electric powertrain. This one married a small 1.4-liter turbo-diesel engine, borrowed from the European Fiesta model, to a prototype new-generation of Ford’s hybrid drive. The result is both swift performance—0 to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds—and remarkable fuel economy, estimated at 40 to 65 mpg in real-world use. Both the engine and the electric motor drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic. In addition, like the Lexus RX400h, the Reflex has a second electric motor (20 hp, or 15 kW) to drive the rear wheels and provide all-wheel-drive.
With peak power (55 hp, or 41 kW) and torque (129 foot-pounds) at 6000 rpm and 4000 rpm respectively, this high-revving diesel complements electric drive’s low-end torque much better than do older, lower-revving diesels. Plus, the electric motor can be wound for the high torque needed to start the diesel on cold days, when the oil thickens; and the electric drive can smooth out extremes in power demand, cutting the diesel’s nitrous oxides (NOx) emissions substantially. If public response to a sporty high-mileage hybrid coupe is good, Ford says, “Perhaps the stigma of diesels in North America can be overcome by the hybrid’s image.”
Other features of the Reflex include an interior quieted by recycled scrap Nike athletic shoes, and seat belts with mini-airbags that inflate to broaden the restraint area during an accident. It also has photovoltaic panels on its surface that power a fan that vents hot air from the interior when the car is parked, as well as helping to power lights and other systems when the car is running solely on electric power.
In an interview, hybrid systems propulsion manager Tom Watson sketched out three new iterations of Ford’s hybrid drive. The goals are to increase regenerative braking efficiency; cut the heat generated by the electronics to eliminate the Escape Hybrid’s costly and complex battery-cooling system; reduce the number of technologies Ford must license from others; and finally, to standardize the components so more of them can be built by Ford’s existing supply chain.