Ford zooms to the lead in fuel economy

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Ford keeps rolling into the future as it takes an aggressive lead in the effort to make more fuel-efficient cars. Image: Arend Vermazeran/Flickr/CC BY

Once-faltering Ford Motors picked itself up by its bootstraps and reinvented itself in 2006. The center of that push seems to be in developing and implemented new technologies to lower fuel consumption. Wednesday, the nation’s second largest automaker said it will now be devoting one of its largest laboratories to the effort.

Ford rallies to cry for fuel economy

Consumer surveys in 2002 showed that Ford was slipping among buyers because of the company’s poor record on fuel economy. The automaker has turned that around in the last decade.

Raj Nair, who will step into the top position of Ford’s global product development division on April 1, said:

“Now people are coming to us because we do have superior fuel economy to the majority of our competitors, and that’s going to be the heart of our strategy going forward.”

Dedicating facility to effort

Ford will now be dedicating its red-brick 285,000 square foot research facilities in Dearborn, Mich., to developing more affordable fuel-saving technologies.

Tougher fuel and emission standards

But the automaker is not just being responsive to consumer requests. The effort is also driven by the Obama Administration’s mandate that all cars sold in the U.S. must achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Stricter emission standards are also raising the technological challenges for automakers selling cars in Europe and Asia.

A mover and shaker

Ford has introduced nine models in the last year that deliver 40 miles per gallon or better. The 2012 Focus Electric boasts the battery-powered equivalent of 105 miles per gallon. Ford also said that it plans to put its EcoBoost engine technology — a system that raises fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent — in 11 of its 2013 models. It was integrated into seven of this year’s models.

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Solutions must be affordable

But fuel economy aside, for its cars to succeed, Ford has to make them affordable. The higher cost of hybrid and electric vehicles has, at least in part, kept them from yet being embraced by the U.S. consumer in a big way.

Bob Taenaka, the head of Ford’s battery-development department, said:

“To offset the higher price of the vehicle, in three to four years, we’d want to make sure that the customer has recouped that additional money that they’ve repaid.”

According to Edmunds, a Chevrolet Volt — made by GM, the world’s largest automaker — would take a dozen years to recoup its cost with gas at $4 a gallon, given the average motorist drives 15,000 miles a year. Ford estimates its new Fusion hybrid will do the same in four.

Effort creates jobs

Ford also said it will triple its output of hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as boosting the nation’s economy by 12,000 jobs, in the next three years.


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