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Ford EcoBoost

I had the good fortune to sit down with Barb Samardzich, Ford’s Vice President of Powertrain Engineering at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show with the camera rolling. I’ve been intrigued by Ford’s decision to aggressively pursue their EcoBoost (turbocharged direct-injection) here in the States, rather than take the diesel route. We shot this candid discussion in one take, in a conference room in the second floor of Ford’s sprawling booth. While there was no editing of the flow of the conversation, I took the liberty of cutting away to supporting displays in the booth to liven things up.

MPGomatic: Barb, can you tell us a little bit about where Ford’s going with regard to gasoline technology and electrification?

Barb Samardzich: Sure. If I had to sum it up real succinctly, I’d say it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

I think we’re going to see various propulsion systems available in a given platform so that consumers can make a choice that’s right for their driving needs, their driving styles and where they sit with respect to environmental conscientiousness.

From our perspective at Ford, the way we see that vision is a global platform so we have the body, various bodies on a given chassis, and then our job in the power train arena is to make sure that we provide those power train options.

So, whether it’s a traditional gasoline engine, an EcoBoost engine, a diesel engine or the various forms of hybridization that we’ve announced as well as those that we have already in the marketplace, from a full hybrid to micro-hybrids to plug-in hybrids and then our recent announcement on the battery electric vehicle.

So, if you think about a consumer coming into a showroom having a variety of top hats off of a given size platform, and then being able to choose a power train or propulsion system that’s right for them, I think that’s where things are going to be for awhile as we transition from the state we’re in now, which is heavily fossil fuel-dependent, to one that is electrified.

MPGomatic: So, in Europe, for example, it’s 50 percent or more diesel, and they look at what we’re doing with hybrids here and they think, “Why would you want to do that when diesel is already there?”

You do quite well with diesels in Europe, but it’s going to take awhile before it happens here.

Barb Samardzich: It’s interesting, the answer to that question isn’t a technology answer, it’s a public policy answer.

In Europe, the European nations made a decision to drive an energy policy to drive CO2 down. To do that, they taxed petrol and they kept the price of diesel below petrol.

Consumers will always make; at the end of the day, they are rational and they make a rational decision. So, it didn’t take consumers long to figure out that from a pocketbook perspective, diesel was the better solution for them.

And diesels took off, fulfilling the energy policy that was set in place. And today it’s about 65 percent diesel engines, and they are great engines, as you said.

In the U.S., we haven’t had that type of an energy policy. Diesel fuel, over the past year, has been anywhere from 30-40 cents more a gallon than gasoline, up to over a dollar, I’ve seen it.

At that price delta, regardless of the absolute value of the fuel, at that price delta, it’s a hard value equation for consumers to make in the U.S., because they’re going to be paying a premium for the diesel engine in the dealership to begin with, because the diesel’s more expensive both as an engine as well as to emissionize it.

And then every time they go to the filling station, they pay a premium. And when they look at that and just do the simple calculations, they can see that the payback from that diesel engine just isn’t going to be there for them.

MPGomatic: So, EcoBoost is intended to provide many of the same benefits that diesel does, with a higher level of energy out of every gallon of gas ñ better mileage.

From the start, it’s been targeted at the higher, the larger engines, higher horsepower. It seems more of a horsepower issue. You know, we’re putting this in the V6s and the V8s?

Barb Samardzich: Well, let me give you our strategy. The start of our strategy was, it’s still fuel economy as well as performance, and the concept is: no compromise here to consumers.

First of all, just so everyone knows what we’re talking about here with an EcoBoost: It’s a gasoline engine with direct injection as well as turbo charging.

The direct injection, combined with the turbo charging, enables you to not sacrifice any kind of fuel economy, with respect to a compression ratio, and the turbo charging gives you great, great improvements in horsepower and torque.

So you get diesel-like torque curves.

One of the things that makes diesel so fun to drive is that you hit that peak torque the minute you step on the throttle. It just goes straight up.

Same with the turbo-charged gasoline engine. So, we’ve got the “fun to drive.”

Now, our strategy is, given that huge increase in the horsepower and the torque associated with the turbos, we can downsize the engine and take the displacement down, provide the customer with as-good or better performance feel, and get the benefits of a smaller displacement engine.

In the engine world, the biggest lever you can pull for fuel economy improvement is downsizing displacement.

So, for example, in our Flex and in our Lincoln MKS, where we’re introducing EcoBoost engines, instead of having V8 engines, which would be traditional larger horsepower and torque displacement engines for consumers that perhaps have a lot of towing needs or they like a performance feel; they want to, you know, they enjoy that.

They would traditionally have bought V8 engines. And most of the competitors to our products would have V8 engine offerings for that consumer.

We have a V6 offering, so no delta in fuel here ñ same fuel you’re gonna get in your naturally aspirated, what people would think as entry-level V6, but you get all the performance feel of a V8.

So, it is an environmentally conscientious strategy, and we’re taking that same strategy and very shortly we’ll be seeing those announcements coming.

And taking a V6 and displacing it with an I4 and doing exactly the same thing: getting I4 fuel economy, V6 performance.

So, it’s really a no-compromise strategy.

Now, it doesn’t hit the absolute fuel economy of a diesel engine, but it does come close ñ especially when we combine it with technologies like stop-start where, you know, you pull up to a light, your engine shuts off, then when you take off again it keeps going.

And other technologies that we have around in our full line of six-speed transmissions.

But again, in the U.S., where diesel is priced, always, at a premium to petrol, it’s the right strategy to really make a substantial difference in our CO2 footprint.

MPGomatic: So, with stop-start, and with the six-speed automatic transmissions, you can gain a lot of the benefits that hybrids presently have? In town, one of the ways that a hybrid is ahead in mileage is because of stop-start.

Barb Samardzich: Well, the ability to run on the electric motor is what gives the hybrids their advantage. And no conventional engine is going to approach that.

You have to have a battery to store the energy and a motor to drive the vehicle, and once you do that it allows you to completely wean yourself off the gasoline and provide electric power.

MPGomatic: But, I’ve driven a couple of diesels that have stop-start technology, so the BMW 123d, the Mini D, you pull up to a lightóit’s disconcerting at first.

Barb Samardzich: It is.

MPGomatic: You throw it in neutral and the engine stops. It takes a little while to get used to it. But that’s going to start to happen with gasoline engines here.

Barb Samardzich: Absolutely. But that’s maybe an incremental 3 percent or so fuel economy, versus a hybrid, which are substantial fuel economy improvement.

Again, with the hybrid you shut the engine off not just when you’ve stopped the car, but you shut the engine off when you’re driving around at, you know, 30 miles per hour in a medium torque situation for quite a range.

MPGomatic: And with the six-speed transmission, the ability, at highway speeds, to drop down to a close-to-idle speed with enough torque is where you really gain the benefits for highway.

Barb Samardzich: That’s the benefits of having an increasing number of gear ratios in your transmission, is you allow the engine to run at its optimum RPM, right. You can keep taking the engine speed down, because you have different gear ratios to choose from, and keep optimizing that relationship.

MPGomatic: Well, Barb, I want to thank you very much for taking time to speak with us.

Barb Samardzich: My pleasure. Thank you. It was a pleasure to talk to you.


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#1 Tony C on 01.28.09 at 10:43 am

Could this have been anymore of a kiss *** interview? Why not ask how any of this differs from the technology VW and Audi have had in production for years now? DI turbos and six speeds are nothing new. Why didn’t Ford have this in production 5 years ago?

#2 mpg-o-editor on 01.28.09 at 10:54 am

@Tony C – Many thanks for your thoughts. You do bring up a good point, after kneecapping me, but you miss the forest for the trees. 🙂 I’ve just spent a week with a DISI-equipped Mazda CX-7 and I’m currently driving an Audi Q7 TDI. The bigger heavier Audi is delivering significantly better mileage.

#3 Mike A on 05.31.10 at 10:34 am

Just came across this one last night when I was writing my own blog post on EcoBoost. The bottom line is if diesel were the same price of gasoline in the U.S., it would be justifiable to have a diesel. Unfortunately that’s not the case so EcoBoost is a fine alternative.

Right now EcoBoost has only been delivered as a performance option that doesn’t hurt fuel economy. Once the 2.0L EB’s in the Edge and Explorer are released, that’s where we see the real fuel economy gains.

I’m just hoping the 1.6L makes its way into the 2012 Focus. That could/should post Jetta/Golf TDI-esque numbers, albeit with less torque, but more horsepower.

#4 mpg-o-editor on 05.31.10 at 11:10 am

Aye, Mike. Twin-turbo direct-injection technology is awesome, no matter how it’s branded. Go take a test drive in a BMW 335d and get back to me. 😉

The diesel/regular unleaded price equivalent argument doesn’t play out in RUGs favor over the long run, for a number of reasons, including higher resale historical value for diesel-powered vehicles and overall domestic energy policy.

America will make a major shift in the use of domestic fuel. CNG will displace diesel in many fleet vehicles (large trucks and buses). This should free up a great amount of diesel fuel, which can then be utilized in passenger vehicles – whether or not those passenger vehicles are manufactured domestically.

We’ve been dealt a hand of cards. It’s up to us to play them correctly.

#5 Mike A on 05.31.10 at 12:17 pm

Great points. I would really hope to see the CNG in commercial vehicles plan executed in the next 5-10 years, with plug-in diesel hybrids (like a diesel Chevy Volt) becoming the norm. I’m just thinking in baby steps right now. I kind of think of EcoBoost and similar technologies as “gasoline’s last stand.” I’m just encouraged that car companies are finally taking fuel efficiency truly, truly seriously because horsepower is more than adequate. (304 horsepower in a V6 Mustang w/ 31 MPG? WOW. And that’s without Direct Injection…and a 180 horsepower 1.6L EcoBoost in a Focus-sized vehicle is absolutely plenty of power in any situation except a drag strip.)

#6 mpg-o-editor on 05.31.10 at 8:53 pm

A comprehensive CNG plan needs to be executed immediately. We can start making these changes and seeing the benefits right now … the subsidies that are currently in place are a great start.

As gasoline engines are downsized, cars will become lighter and increasingly more aerodynamic, while remaining just as safe. The increased use of carbon fiber and other technologies will help make the most of every pony.

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