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Ford is taking a markedly different approach to making hybrids and plug-in hybrids than competitors such as General Motors–and the company hopes this difference will provide it an edge in a potentially volatile market for such vehicles.

Ford’s strategy will allow it to easily switch between making conventional gas-powered cars and a range of other, different designs: diesel-powered cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. Rather than making a distinct plug-in hybrid electric vehicle model, as General Motors is doing with the Volt, which it will start selling at the end of this year, Ford plans to make a variety of electric propulsion options available on all of its top-selling cars worldwide.

“Going down the same assembly line, you can do battery electric, a plug-in hybrid, a hybrid, an efficient petrol, or an efficient diesel vehicle,” says Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification. “That makes it very robust to what undoubtedly will be a volatile market for the next 10 years.”

Over the next decade, automakers, which until now have produced petroleum-powered cars almost exclusively, will start making cars that run on a variety of power sources to address government regulations and high fuel prices. But it’s not clear how well these new vehicles will sell.

As a first step in its strategy, Ford has announced that an assembly line in Michigan that currently produces the Ford Focus will also produce an electric version of the car starting next year, and hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions in 2012. (Plug-in hybrids, like hybrids, have both electric motors and gas-power engines, but they also have larger batteries that can be recharged via a normal electrical outlet.) While other automakers, including Ford, have in the past converted conventional cars models to hybrids, Ford plans to do this on a wider scale, making it an option for more than 10 different models; and it plans to include plug-in hybrid and electric options as well.

Ford also recently announced that it will start designing and assembling key components of hybrid and electric vehicles. It will start making batteries for its next generation of hybrids, due out in 2012, instead of buying them from outside suppliers. But Ford hasn’t brought all of its battery design in-house, and it’s also working with partners to produce its first electric vehicles, such as an electric version of the Ford Transit Connect that will go on sale later this year.

The key advantage of Ford making electric versions of its conventional vehicles and designing its own batteries is cost savings. The fact that the body, wheels, suspension, and so on are the same will allow Ford to make higher volume orders than it could if it was just ordering enough to supply a hybrid or electric model.

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Credits: Ford Motor Company

Tagged: Business, Energy, batteries, electric vehicles, A123 Systems, GM, Volt, plug-in hybrid, hybrid, Ford, plug-ins

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