Electric insides: A rendering of the Ford Focus shows how the company plans to tuck batteries and other electric components into the car.
What’s more, Ford has designed its hybrids so that they use the same electronics boards used to control systems in the engine of its conventional vehicles. In hybrids, the electronics board will control the charging and discharging of the battery. As a result, Ford will be able to order between half a million and a million of these controllers. “That’s a level no one else in the industry can achieve so far,” because of the relatively low volumes of hybrid sales, Gioia says.
Ford is using a similar cost-saving approach with its plug-in hybrids. Some automakers, such as GM, have opted to make plug-in hybrids that are significantly different from their hybrid vehicles, so they don’t share many common parts. But Ford’s plug-in hybrid will have the same electric motors, power electronics, control systems, and transmission as regular hybrids, allowing for large-scale production of these parts. The only significant differences will be the battery and the battery charger. Toyota will take an approach to plug-in hybrids that’s similar to Ford’s.
Ford’s plug-in design also allows it to save money on the battery. GM has decided to make the Volt run exclusively on electricity for the first 40 miles of driving, without any help from the on-board gasoline engine. The engine only kicks on after the battery is depleted, when it serves to generate electricity and recharge the battery, rather than directly driving the wheels. The advantage is the car can use no gasoline at all for commuting. But Ford has decided to let the gasoline engine help with heavy acceleration and for sustained highway speeds, and it is aiming for a shorter electric range of 30 miles. This means its plug-in hybrids will use a relatively small battery pack that stores less than 10 kilowatt-hours of energy–far less than the 16 kilowatt-hours stored by GM’s Volt.
Most of the cars that Ford will sell in the coming decade, by far, will still be powered by gas or diesel. Gioia estimates that hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles will account for between 10 and 25 percent of total worldwide sales by 2020, and only about one in 100 vehicles will be all-electric, in part because of their higher costs. “But estimates could change very rapidly based on policy and fuel prices,” she says.
Such estimates are reasonable based on the history of hybrid vehicle adoption says Mike Omotoso, senior manager of power-train forecasting at JD Power and Associates. Last year–a decade after they were first introduced in the United States–291,000 hybrids were sold, which is just 2.8 percent of all new vehicle sales. Omotoso estimates that it could take more than seven years for electric vehicle sales to break 100,000.