It’s not a great way to generate buzz, but Ford Motor Co. is taking a common sense approach to building greener cars. In contrast to trying to build an eco-friendly “halo” car—or betting big on a single technology—Ford is preparing to weave a range of electric-drive and efficiency technologies into its mainstream global vehicle lineup.
“It’s tough to communicate our philosophy versus focusing on one technology,” said John Viera, Ford’s director of sustainability and environmental policy, in an exclusive interview with HybridCars.com. “We feel that outside the communication and the hype, there is no silver bullet. There’s no fuel type or technology, including electric, that is the perfect solution. They’re either too expensive or they lack infrastructure and availability. They all have their warts.”
Ford is balancing its move to efficiency between advanced internal combustion technology, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars. The company will launch its all-electric Transit Connect delivery truck later this year, followed by the Ford Focus Electric in 2011, a plug-in hybrid version of a small SUV (not necessarily the Escape) in 2012, and a pair of next-generation hybrids by 2013.
Ford is planning to build fewer than 10,000 all-electric vehicles in the next two years. Meanwhile, Nissan-Renault is planning to build as many as 500,000 pure electric cars globally by 2012. Could Ford fall behind if electric cars take the world by storm?
Guessing Game on Electric and Hybrid Volumes
“Rather than guessing if it’s going to happen or not, we’ve decided to take a common platform approach,” Viera said. Ford is going to build high-efficiency gas cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars all on the same high-volume global production lines, many of them using the Focus-sized C platform. Flexibility is the key.
Ford is working with its supply base so the company has the components to quickly ramp up volumes on electric vehicles, if necessary. “We don’t have to guess,” Viera said. “If electric vehicles take off, that’s fine. We’ll just manage our line. It’s not like we’re tied to a unique platform where you better get the volumes right.”
Ford’s sustainability efforts go beyond propulsion systems to the broadest possible strategies, from using less energy and water in manufacturing, to producing nearly zero waste in landfills and using bio-based materials rather than plastics in vehicle interiors.
Ford is also pushing compressed natural gas for fleets, and ethanol as a gasoline blend—although the company stops short at hydrogen fuel cell cars, which Viera believes is still in the research phase.
Ultimately, Ford’s strategy is about reaching a mass market. Viera said that an electric car’s limited driving range will put some limits on the type of customer who will buy. “If you had a plug-in hybrid as well as an EV, you are now able to bring in more customers. Some customers say they don’t want to plug their vehicle in at all. They want a hybrid. We’ve elected to participate in all of those segments. We may not be a leader in any one of those, but we’ll appeal to a broader range of customers.”