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Ford's Fuel Efficient Future: Bringing Electrification to Life

11/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

2009 has been a dynamic year for the U.S. auto industry. We stood side-by-side with President Obama when he announced a new national fuel and emission standards program. We applauded the Department of Energy's decision to award grants to accelerate viable commercial production of electrified vehicles and vehicle-to-grid infrastructure development. We were impressed by the number of Americans who recently traded in their vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.

Our vision is to bring affordable technology to millions. We pride ourselves on offering a wide array of technologies to meet fuel efficiency needs of all types of drivers in regions spanning the globe.

Ford customers are urban and rural; they live on both coasts and in the heart of the US. They also live in cities like Beijing and Barcelona. Today we are laying the groundwork to meet the needs of a diverse group of customers with a wide and global product lineup, and the ability to quickly change our manufacturing response to meet the needs of these many markets.

Now Ford is moving forward with its product plans to deliver fuel economy improvements and reduced CO2 emissions, without compromising the driving experience. At Ford, a timely part of this undertaking will involve bringing electric vehicles to market.

Ford's electrification strategy involves three types of electrified vehicles - Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) - providing options that meet broad driving needs.

As part of this plan, we will deliver a suite of electrified vehicles to market by 2012, including a pure battery electric Transit Connect commercial van in 2010, a battery electric Focus compact car in 2011, the next generation hybrid in 2012 and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle also in 2012.

A key part of our electrification strategy is collaborating with electric utilities across the U.S. to prepare for a future in which plug-in vehicles equipped with intelligent systems can communicate seamlessly with the electric grid. During a recent meeting where we invited all of our electric utility partners to Ford Worldwide Headquarters in Dearborn for the first time, we unveiled our new vehicle-to-grid communication innovation.

Ford's technology innovation would allow drivers to program when to recharge their vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate. For example, a driver could program his/her vehicle to charge only during off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper, or when the grid is using renewable energy. Specially-equipped plug-in hybrids, developed by Ford, can communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by utility companies through wireless networking. The owner uses the vehicle's touch screen navigation interface and Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate. We are first testing this technology in the Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid vehicles now being operated by our utility partners.

We recognize that the auto industry cannot move towards an electrification vision alone. That is why since 2007, we've worked side by side with our energy industry partners to log more than 75,000 miles on our plug-in hybrid test fleet, a fleet that is spread out at different utility partners across North America. Our research focuses on four primary areas: battery technology, vehicle systems, and customer usage and grid infrastructure.

With our partners, we are focusing on ways to determine how the recharging process can be made easy and efficient for consumers. In addition to low-cost recharging at home through the use of a smart meters, solutions will need to be found to allow consumers to recharge at work, at shopping mall parking lots or at curbside stations. Much work remains to be done before electric vehicles become a significant part of the transportation landscape, but developments in this arena are moving fast.

In the next seven years, we will invest nearly $14 billion in advanced technologies including electrification. But it is important to remember that electric vehicles are not the only way consumers can "drive green." We continue to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions from our vehicles with a range of technologies from EcoBoost engines to hybrid systems. Ultimately, consumers will choose which kind of propulsion systems and vehicles best meet their demands today and tomorrow.

Sue Cischke is Ford's Group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. Ford will introduce a pure battery electric Transit Connect commercial van in 2010, a battery electric Focus compact car in 2011, a next generation hybrid and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2012.