2012 Ford Focus BEV  (Source: AutoBlog)

We spoke with Ford CEO Alan Mulally on his thoughts on the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus BEV  (Source: Public Radio International)
At a special Ford press event, we spoke with the company's executives on a variety of subjects

Ford Motor Company is an intriguing force on the auto landscape today.  Long having been in the sales shadow of General Motors, America's largest automaker, Ford found itself in a much rosier position after smart financial moves allowed it to become the only of the Big Three to avoid government bailout money (other than advanced tech loans), bankruptcy, and government takeover.  As the year nears an end, that success -- coupled with new technologies like EcoBoost and SYNC -- has made Ford one of the most viable players on the market today.

DailyTech had 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.

We kicked 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.

We 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 Focus]."

He pointed out that many Ford vehicles, like the Ford F-150 truck are still designed exclusively in the U.S.

With 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]."

Next we 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 working on). 

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 technology plan."

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 point"

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 right!"

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 designs]."

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."

He 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 engine.

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.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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