Fuel-Efficient Driving for Not Thousands, but Millions of Drivers

05/25/2011 02:20 pm ET
  • Sue Cischke Group Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Company

The success of the recent cash for clunkers program this past summer demonstrated a clear case of consumers' desire for affordable, fuel efficient vehicles. Thanks to the incentives under the program, buyers snapped up roughly 700,000 new cars, trading in old cars for new models. The program delivered on two key motivators for car buyers: make it affordable and make it fuel efficient - concepts that work for both consumers and ultimately, for the environment.

More than a year ago when gas prices climbed past the $3.50/gallon mark, consumers moved the car market faster than CAFÉ regulations had in twenty years. Today, gas remains relatively inexpensive, but we think consumers will remember how hard higher gas prices hit their wallets, and we believe the shift in buying patterns was more than a temporary fluke.

Cash for clunkers may be over, but consumers are still looking for value and still looking for vehicles that will make their fuel budgets stretch a little farther. They need practical solutions today.

I found it both exciting and interesting that at the September Frankfurt auto show, one of the largest in the world, a lot of buzz centered on electric vehicles. Electric mobility, or e-mobility, was a recurring theme throughout the show. It was a significant change from just two years ago, when electric cars received scant attention. One reporter, noting all the recent interest surrounding electric vehicle concepts, suggested that "electric cars were the new black."

There is clearly strong momentum around electric vehicles of all types - hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure battery electrics. At Ford we're working hard to bring all of those options to market. (See Ford's Fuel Efficient Future: Bringing Electrification to Life). We're not only developing the plug-in hybrids and EVs of tomorrow, we're working in partnership with electric utilities to understand all the challenges of connectivity between vehicles and the grid. We believe EVs will play a part of the transportation equation of the future, but we do not see them as the sole solution for consumers.

Ten years after their introduction, hybrid vehicles are still only 3 percent of the market. It will clearly take time for plug-ins and EVs to gain acceptance and to become affordable for large numbers of buyers.

We are not putting all our eggs into the electric basket. We know consumers are asking for more fuel efficient solutions that are affordable today. That's why we have continued to engineer improvements to the internal combustion engine. While the auto industry is embracing new technologies to move toward the least vehicle emissions possible, the combustion engine is going to be around for a long time.

Those of you who watch football might have noticed recent ads for the new Ford Taurus SHO. If you listened carefully, you might have caught one message, "the thrust of a V8 with the thirst of a V6."

It's one way to characterize Ford's new technology for the traditional gas engine that will increase fuel efficiency - and decrease CO2 emissions. We call this technology EcoBoost. It combines direct injection and turbo charging, to allow for engine downsizing without compromising performance. In short, this engine produces more power while using less gas. For example, a V6 engine performs like a V8, and an I-4 engine performs like a V6. But most importantly, they can deliver the performance drivers want but consume less gas.

We talk a great deal about technological innovation as providing solutions to our commitment to address climate change and energy independence. Innovation drives our engineering development. As an example, the technology behind EcoBoost, will add no less than 125 patents and patent applications to Ford's existing 4,618 active U.S. patents.

Not only is EcoBoost a reality today, it is affordable, and requires no additional infrastructure or maintenance. Today it is offered in the Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex. Next year it will be offered in an I-4 version. In 2010, it will be available in the crown-jewel of Ford's truck lineup, the F-150. By 2013, we will be building more than a million EcoBoost powered vehicles for the global market.

Will the internal combustion engine disappear? Not likely for a long time. That's one of the reasons we continue to work to make it better, more fuel efficient, with fewer CO2 emissions. But we recognize the significant need to develop alternative technologies in the evolution of transportation. Ford fully expects to help lead this evolution with our current development of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating, there is no single, silver bullet solution to the challenge of reducing transportation's carbon footprint. The solutions will come from multiple technology paths to achieve real and sustainable results.

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.