THE POWER OF CHOICE
A green day at Ford
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Dec 19, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Doug Stokes Wherein Ford "showcases a number of green driving trends in LA and beyond" (and rolls out some product too!) At the kind invitation of the Ford Motor Company (and the personal request of the boss here at LA Car) I recently attended a luncheon conference at the Petersen Museum that was set up to cover the broad range of vehicular answers that Ford has come up regarding the questions of fuel efficiency, carbon reduction, and the kind of driving styles and systems that users need/want/demand these days. We certainly had a high-placed (almost made that "powered") presenter from Ford. Dan Kapp is the Director, Powertrain Research and Advanced Engineering (a guy with 20+ years in the engine biz). Kapp knew his subject well, and, after the formal presentation, traveled back in time with us as we talked with some fond nostalgia about the (first) small-turbocharged-motor era at Ford represented by Merkurs, T-Birds, and Mustangs. All of which were factory-equipped with hot 4-cylinder Turbos back when the "T" was capitalized, gas was a buck thirty-nine a gallon, and "engine optimization" was considerably less of a concern than it is now. As part of the preamble, we heard notes and numbers that were said to be the prime movers of public needles in the car biz these days. Fuel efficiency rated highest (43 percent) on the all-important "influencing factors" list among potential purchasers, with "technology" ringing in as only as a 4 percent consideration in the buying decision. We further heard that 68 percent of us (LA-area residents) expressed interest in purchasing a hybrid. Gas prices (and, in particular what price level would trigger the sticker "shock" needed for consumers to plug in to the grid), range anxiety, and actual automotive use were all explained and enumerated in the course of the Ford presentation. In this case five or six buck gas (in Europe it's somewhere between 8 and 10 dollars) would see even the dyed-in-the-wool hot rodders setting sail for their local e-car dealer.
Interestingly enough, and even at the current prices for gasoline, 78 percent of the respondents indicated that they were satisfied with their current fuel economy rating! One more (personal favorite) "number" that we got before we start to talk about the hardware: Of the 300 (over 18 years of age, California-licensed, and living within 30 miles of Los Angeles) people who were surveyed, fully 56 percent find driving "overwhelming and confusing". Not to put too very sharp a point on that number, but next time that you're on the freeway, thinking about executing that just-barely-makeable-if-everyone-behaves 70 mph lane change (and you are NOT overwhelmed or confused) by Ford's recent count … That other guy is! How many airbags has the new Focus got? I really got a kick out of the title of the Electric Focus release we were handed, it called the Focus "Gas-Free" and sounded to me like Dearborn had heroically rid the land of hydrocarbons, rather than simply done a pretty nice job of producing a battery(only)-powered version of its wildly popular Focus. The claim for the eFocus is 100MPGe which is an equivalency (hence the little "e" on the end) rating that can vary just like (and just as widely) estimated gasoline mileage. The big(ger) draw (pun sort of intended) for this one is the fact that recharging time has been slimmed down to "three to four hours" using a 240-volt home charging unit which will be soon on sale at your participating local Best Buy for $1499. The claimed range (before the machine needs its 3 to 4 on the electronic teat) for the eFocus is a nice round 100 miles. Your mileage may vary (wildly). Competing on the balance scales of cost/effectiveness with Ford's cars are conventional offerings that make 40 miles per gallon like the new Fiesta and Focus. The eFocus was "not quite ready to drive" at the Pete, but the EcoBoost Explorer, the Transit Connect electric, and the already good-selling Fusion Hybrid were all on premises in the Petersen parking garage and short orientation drives ensued. Transparency being what it is, there's almost nothing discernable about where the power is coming from out on Wilshire Boulevard at -20 miles an hour.
Kapp also explained some of the finer points of the new C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi (yeah, it's spelled that way). The Energi, Ford's even-longer-ranged answer to the ground-breaking Chevy Volt, will claim a 500 mile range (which for me adds up to three and a half stops for the necessary room … my personal range). Ford's EcoBoost engined machines have been in the dealer's showrooms for a while now. They are smaller engines, very cleanly turbocharged, svelte V-6's where stout V-8's once ran; lighter, less "thirsty" with higher compression ratios, direct fuel injection, and ECUs that can sense individual cylinder needs and fulfill them. Ford is very bullish about their new fine-tuned version of turbo-charging and told us that, by 2013, EcoBoost-ed engines will be offered in 90% of their vehicle line. And, speaking of participating dealers, not every Ford dealer will either carry for sale nor be equipped to service many of these new electrified Ford products. However, we were assured that the distribution of dealers where these high-voltage Fords will be available will be convenient for all in the market for the product. Even with all of the various styles (and catchy names) of engine types and combo we were shown, when he was asked, Kapp allowed as how Ford had some very sound diesel (proven European design) and CNG tech in its arsenal and that Ford was not afraid to use it if the demand showed itself. And, oh yes, those ever-technically-tantalizing fuel cells were only barely mentioned in passing, that particular technology remaining "just around the corner" (as they have been for some 20 years now!). As the old pitchman would intone: "… You pays yer money and you takes yor choice." And, at this most recent viewing, we were presented with a wide number of them in the Ford portfolio, each them representing their own version of "practicality" depending on the driver and about a hundred thousand of variations based on personal lifestyle and economic circumstances. Ford has made a big, ambitious, and broad-based bet on the future of energy-efficient automobiles and light trucks, and they are savvy enough to understand that good intentions are not really good enough reason to buy one of these machines. There needs to be a good payback for the pocketbook and not just "Good Guy" back pats from like-minded friends. Right now, it still takes a lot of calcs (along with the inward looks) to make sure that the extra price (and complications) for hybrid and electrified automobiles offers a good ROI for an individual driver. By now everyone knows that, if somewhere, just over the horizon, someone is burning a whole bunch of coal to make the electricity for your clean/green car, the net effect is still negative. The lunch was good and the takeaway was that there are now a whole bunch of "horses for courses" out there and Ford's got a pretty good stable. - Doug Stokes
POSTSCRIPT: A day later there was a very interesting article in the LA Times that will save a good deal of oil, and that was for people to follow manufacturer's guide lines on changing engine oil. Turns out that the old 3,000 interval has been outmoded by technology in engine design and oil formulation. For many late model machines 5,000 and 7,500-mile intervals to R&R the crankcase oil is standard, with some manufacturers indicating even longer drain mileage cycles. There was no startling "If everyone … (went 2 or 3,000 miles farther between oil changes)" oil saving figures in the piece, but the number would seem pretty substantial. So … Look in your owner's manual and follow your manufacturer's advice.