07
Aug
08

Ford promises to improve car, truck efficiency 20%

Ford Motor Co.’s group vice president for global product development, Derrick Kuzak, said Wednesday that Ford would “achieve class-leading fuel economy” for its new cars and trucks in North America “through unprecedented spending on advanced gasoline engines.”

That includes EcoBoost, a Ford-branded engine technology that combines gasoline-injection with turbocharging for up to a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy, as well as other technologies.

“We are committed to being the best or among the best in fuel economy with every new Ford product,” Kuzak said during a daylong event for journalists at Ford’s test track in Dearborn, Mich., where the automaker was showing off its 2009 lineup. That lineup includes the Ford Flex large crossover, the Lincoln MKS large sedan, and an all-new F-150, as well as updates to powertrains, paint colors and other options for many vehicles.

Kuzak boasted, for example, that the next-generation Explorer will offer “jaw-dropping” efficiency.

“We are making this happen,” he added, “with one of the most extensive powertrain upgrades ever for Ford. By the end of 2010, nearly all of Ford’s North American engines will be upgraded or replaced.”

While this focus might seem like a shift from Ford’s prior dedication to diesels, hybrid gasoline-electric engines, electric plug-in hybrids and other types of powertrains, Ford said it is not shying away from those technologies.

Rather, Ford sees improvements in traditional gasoline engines as the best near-term solution while the marketplace sorts through the variety of options now on the table for the future. That’s because these technologies offer more improvements in fuel efficiency for the buck when compared with hybrids, which usually come with a hefty premium.

A poster at the Ford event says a customer who drives 15,000 miles a year can save $339 annually with EcoBoost.

Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, a Birmingham, Mich., forecasting and consulting firm, said he believes that Ford is embarking on the proper strategy.

“The cost to do advanced gasoline engines is actually more reasonable from an investment standpoint than running willy-nilly into hybrids. Hybrids still have an incredible price premium,” he said. “EcoBoost is a significant move.”

Ford has not said how much it will charge for EcoBoost, but it has promised that consumers will see a financial return on an EcoBoost engine faster than a hybrid.

The first applications of EcoBoost will come with the 2009 Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex crossover. Four-cylinder EcoBoost engines are to debut in 2010 in both North America and Europe.

By 2012, Ford said it would offer EcoBoost on more than 80 percent of its North American lineup.

By that year, Ford will also have doubled its production of six-speed transmissions to 98 percent of the North American lineup, said Dan Kapp, Ford director of advanced research and engineering.

Meanwhile, Ford still plans to double its hybrid volume and offerings next year, when the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid are to begin arriving in showrooms.

“We’ll make sure we’re well represented in the marketplace,” Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said explaining the new multifaceted approach.

Kuzak did not answer questions about his remarks about advanced gasoline-powered engines, but in the recent past, Ford has also studied turbo boosting that uses ethanol to improve power and efficiency.

“We’re researching it,” Ford spokesman Said Deep said of the technology.

Ford’s focus on improved fuel efficiency has already boosted the efficiency of the 2009 Ford Escape.

When equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed transmission, the new Escape offers a better combined city and highway fuel-economy rating than the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V.

“It’s not been often in the past that we’ve been able to say that,” Kuzak said.

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