the privilege of attending a special press event on Friday where Ford
showed off a former truck and sport utility vehicle plant in Wayne
County, Michigan that was being converted to an assembly plant for
small C segment vehicles, like the upcoming 2012
Ford Focus battery electric vehicle (BEV). While we'll have
to wait until CES to reveal much of the exciting tech that was
previewed, we did get some interesting commentary from Ford
executives, including CEO Alan Mulally, himself.
things off by interviewing Ford's Chief Focus Engineer Jim Hughes
about the shift in engineering from the U.S. to Europe. As part
of its effort to globalize resources and cut engineering expenses
under the One Ford initiative, Ford has cut down on redundant
engineering. In the past, some small vehicles like the Focus
sold under the same model name were designed separately in Europe and
the U.S. resulting in distinct North American and European variants –
Ford is now trying to design at only one location. For the
Focus, that means that the American engineering was phased out, and
the European team was kept as the sole world design team.
chatted with Mr. Hughes and asked if this shift was the sign of a
growing trend for Ford, in terms of opting to retain the European
engineering and design teams, but cutting out the redundant American
engineering and design resources. Mr. Hughes commented, "It's
not a growing trend, that's just the way we do it [with the
He pointed out that many Ford vehicles, like the
Ford F-150 truck are still designed exclusively in the U.S.
the growing popularity of small European cars in North American, we
asked him if Ford was seeing any of the opposite trend -- European
buyers looking for larger vehicles. He commented, "Certain
cars done in North America like the Taurus are too large for European
roads. However, some bigger vehicles, like those in the CD
class we fell can do pretty well [in Europe]."
managed to track down Ford CEO Alan Mulally amid a gaggle of
television and press reporters. We asked him about upcoming
2012 Ford Focus electric (the BEV, not to be confused with the
C-segment plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) which Ford is also
We asked him how the role of the plug-in
and battery EVS in Ford's future. He responded, "We've got
a lot of room to improve the internal combustion engine. Number one
priority. Basic foundation. Then we follow with
alternative fuels -- so we're making all of our vehicles able to
handle alternative fuels. That follows with the hybrids.
Hybrids, the real key on the hybrids is, of course, improving the
battery technology, both the size and efficiency and getting the cost
down with the volume. Then follows the all-electric vehicles.
Then one version of the all-electric that will follow will be the
plug-in (PHEV). Now the plug-in and the all electric, those
solutions will be very dependent on systems solutions in partnerships
with the government. Because not only do you need to use the
electricity clean, but you gotta be able to generate the electricity
clean. So this is an important element, but it will follow that
We next queried, "Do you feel GM will
launch their Volt a little prematurely? Because the Focus
plug-in seems like it would be able to take on the Volt at some
Mr. Mulally punted on that question, quipping,
"I'm sorry I missed that last sentence. No not that part,
the part about it being competitive!"
We responded, "[We]
think it would be."
And he replied, "I think you're
We next chatted some more with Ford's Gunnar
Herrmann, director of the Global C Platform, about Ford's upcoming EV
and diesels. He commented that the battery system in EV's "is
space intensive" and industry-wide difficulties with costs and
wait may make Ford's decision to wait a year a smart one. He
comments, "Conceptually we need more time [to improve the
He says diesel
is the current best solution. He comments, "If you want
the most efficient [solution] at the moment it would be an engine
like the Focus 1.6L [I4 Diesel TDCI]."
When asked if
Americans will ever become more enthusiastic about diesel, he states,
"I don't think so."
He states, "The Japanese
said, 'We're going hybrid.' They made the the call."
comments that in Europe stricter emissions restrictions on soot and nitrogen compound emissions [Euro 6] may make diesels less viable in
their current stronghold as well. He states, "It would not
surprise me if the diesel remained in Europe only as a performance
When asked about diesel hybrid vehicles and their
efficiency potential, he said that "high costs" were
holding that type of vehicle back. He comments though that they
seem a very "good solution" should the market ever choose
to accept them.
quote: That's a shame, because ultimately the diesel engine is much more efficient and flexible. Euro 6 is certainly a very strict standard -- hopefully Europeans will stay satisfied with that -- unfortunately, I can see a scenario where they push even tougher standards and slowly (and pointlessly) force out diesels in the process. Let's hope that doesn't happen.