A View from Kevin Bullis
Ford's Bailout Plea Focuses on Energy Efficiency
The automaker shows off fuel-saving tech to attract government money.
Ford Motor Company has just released its plan for surviving in the current lousy economy–the report is part of an effort this week by the Big Three automakers to get massive loans from the government. They were rebuffed last month when they came to Washington begging for money and apparently not looking apologetic enough as they climbed into their private jets. This time at least two of the executives reportedly drove to Washington.
At the heart of the plan is the use of “advanced” technology to make cars with better fuel economy, including several hybrids and an electric van. From the report: “Half of our Ford, Lincoln and Mercury light duty nameplates qualify by 2010 as ‘Advanced Technology Vehicles’ under the Energy Independence and Security Act [EISA].”
So, is this a big deal?
Here’s what an advanced technology vehicle is, according to EISA:
(1) ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY VEHICLE- The term `advanced technology vehicle’ means a light duty vehicle that meets–
(A) the Bin 5 Tier II emission standard established in regulations issued by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under section 202(i) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7521(i)), or a lower-numbered Bin emission standard;
(B) any new emission standard in effect for fine particulate matter prescribed by the Administrator under that Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.); and
(C) at least 125 percent of the average base year combined fuel economy for vehicles with substantially similar attributes.
The first two have to do with non-carbon dioxide emissions, things such as particulates and other emissions that lead to smog. Bin 5 Tier II is the middle-of-the-road level of emissions under relatively new, strict emissions standards. Car companies haven’t had trouble meeting these requirements, according to an EPA report. Being able to meet these standards in the future isn’t that impressive.
Having fuel economy 25 percent higher than other similar vehicles is more impressive. How is Ford doing this? Next year the company will sell many of its cars with “Ecoboost” engines. These use direct-injection and turbo-charging to extract more power from engines, allowing the company to use smaller, more efficient engines. (For a related technology being considered by Ford, see “The Incredible Shrinking Engine.”) The technology can improve fuel economy by 20 percent. The company is also doing smaller things, like using electric power steering pumps and 6-speed transmissions, which can improve efficiency by a few percentage points. It’s also adding two more hybrids to the two it already has (the Escape and Mariner).
None of this is earth-shattering stuff–it’s basically adapting existing technologies in smart ways. But it’s good to see Ford is actually doing it. More cutting edge is the company’s plan to sell plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, starting with an electric van in 2010 and an electric sedan in 2011. More details will follow as Ford releases them, probably just before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today