Seeing that the 2009 Detroit Auto Show was dominated by electric car technology, I lucked out to score the second of my two interviews with Nancy Gioia, Ford’s Global Director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Programs. My goal was to look into what the coming years will bring with specific regard to Ford’s electric car efforts. As with other automakers, electrification has a past (the Ford Electric Ranger), a present (the current Ford electric-hybrids), and a future. Our conversation was inspiring. As it turns out, a full-fledged market-ready Ford electric car is neither far-fetched, nor far off …
MPGomatic: Can you tell us a little bit about where Ford is going with full electric vehicles?
Nancy: We have our Escape hybrid in production today. That’s our full hybrid and we’re really proud of it. The most fuel efficient SUV in the planet. We’ve added our Fusion/Milan Hybrid and they will be in the showrooms later this spring. We’re very excited about that. It’s the most fuel efficient 4-door sedan in the market that you can get in North America. That’s just bringing our hybrid technology to the next level. Ford has an electrified background. Many years ago we had a Ford Electric Ranger, but at that time it was lead-acid batteries and the technology of the battery really wasn’t ready for electric vehicles.
With lithium ion, and we have quite a bit of confidence now our supplier partners, we think we’re ready for the next step. We’re moving forward and in 2010 we’re going to have a full-battery electric compact van that is based off of our global C-car platform and that will be available as a battery electric vehicle only.
In 2011, we follow shortly with this (Nancy points to electric car display), which is a demo or an example of a C-sized car that is a full-battery electric vehicle with our goal of a 100 mile range. Think of it like a Focus that can go 100 miles on electric power only, battery recharged overnight.
By 2012 we’re continuing to progress our fantastic hybrid technology. We’re going to further improve that system and bring out plug-in hybrids which you can plug in overnight and get range. They will run as a regular hybrid and you’re not range limited.
I think there’s a market for all of this, and the customers are different.
MPGomatic: So the very first thing will be a small van, the Transit Connect? Is that correct?
Nancy: Well, we haven’t announced the exact vehicle. It’s a Transit Connect-like size. It’s off of the global C-car platform. I keep saying that global platform and some folks will say, “So what?” It’s a big deal because the toughest thing about electrification is affordability. The batteries are very expensive as well as the other components. By using our global platforms which serve millions of customers, that whole base vehicle is getting the benefit, if you will, of that volume and scale. That helps us on the affordability element. Working with partners like Magma which is what we’re doing on our C-car itself; Magna International, the largest component supplier in the world. They have power train, they have electronics, they have instrument clusters, they have sheet metal. They are a great system integrator and they have been a partner with Ford for a long time.
So we’re working with a high-volume, high-quality automotive supplier. This is great because electric components need that quality, reliability, and durability. They are a great partner for us to work with to integrate that into the vehicle, and we want them to be successful selling their components to others, again, helping us to address the cost equation of this.
Working together, leveraging each other’s investment, and then bringing the component as well as systems together on a vehicle that is going to go on a platform used by million, this is pretty exciting. Affordable transportation is what we want. Transportation that is sustainable in every sense of the word: economically, environmentally, and socially. Bringing our supplier partners along with us, investing jointly, and developing that electrified transport solution for the future, well, we think it makes sense to do it collaboratively.
MPGomatic: So it’s a bit of an open source solution in that you’re able to share the technology through the suppliers. They’ll be able to take what they have and let other manufacturers use similar pieces?
Nancy: Yes. We think that’s going to be fundamental to making this affordable technology; for electrification in all aspects. As soon as you start plugging in we have our other partnerships like we have with Southern California Edison and The Electric Power Research Institute. I’m delighted to say we’ve had many other utilities join the Ford Plug-In Project. They’re going to be a partner along the way as well, right? Because as soon as you plug in, the auto industry and the utility industry now connect through a common fuel to a common customer.
We have to figure out how to communicate the billings, all of the interfaces and enable the customer to do this seamlessly so you take away that barrier, the fear factor if you will, or just, “Oh, gosh. It’s different and I don’t want to deal with it.”
We make it as easy as possible so we’re collaborating there, on the infrastructure side, and we’re collaborating here, on components, and we’re doing this with other suppliers as well.
By the way, it’s billions of dollars, billions, to get to the electrified future and I’m including in that investment for domestic battery cell manufacture, the raw materials, and the equipment that assembles those. Then there are the systems, the components, the vehicles that can house these elements and bring them forward to customers, service, all of these things.
There is a lot of transition to make. We recognize we can’t do it alone and we’re trying to find the best partners in the world to work with.
MPGomatic: This is, in large part, about a resurgence in the economy through creating an entirely new industry, or pumping up what’s already there. We don’t have enough battery plants right now. While we will shortly, we must make the commitment to make it happen.
Nancy: The key in every region around the world; in our collaboration with the utilities, between the utilities and the transport section, and I think, rightly so, we’re saying that energy storage, the battery, is revolutionary. It’s a reinvention of some things. It’s revolutionizing a lot of what we do and how we do it. Think about how our own business models interfaced with the customer changes, what customers need to do to change, and all sorts of things.
As we work on that, energy storage manufacturing capability in every region around the world becomes important. Our goal, long-term – and we have a sustainability blueprint – is our plan for our sustainable products, that is really focused on making sure we have the technologies and the elements.
Electrification is a bit part of our sustainability footprint, and going forward you need battery cells made in every region around the world to enable that. That means you have to have the raw material access, you have to have the processing of that raw material, you have to be able to make the equipment that then makes the cells, you then have to have the research and the new chemistries coming in the development of the future of those cells so that you do it, you get better, you do some more, you get better. You have to bring that virtue of the circle.
Then you have to have component manufacturers, OEMs to put them in cars, customers willing to buy and know how to interface.
This is going to be a journey, and our plan is our global C-car which is like the Focus size or Transit Connect van size, and our C/D-cars which are like our Fusion and Milan.
That we will have the capability on those global platforms, and those are the largest vehicle platforms bought in the world, meaning the highest volume in the world. You can have a battery electric, you can have a plug-in hybrid, you can have a regular hybrid, or a very efficient petrol or diesel power-pack. We think making that suite available on global platforms helps on affordability.
MPGomatic: So you start with a roller and you give the owner, or future customer, complete choice in the method of propulsion?
Nancy: Absolutely. Then based on policy, their needs, their driving cycle, they can pick the right vehicle for them.
– by Daniel Gray