• 44
The Ford Motor Company is not going to chase GM and do a plug-in series hybrid like the Volt. In fact, the Blue Oval thinks that approach is a mistake. Instead, Ford is taking a three-pronged attack to developing hybrid and electric vehicles, with one technology building upon the other.
And by the way, Ford, like most other automakers, is putting fuel cell technology on the back burner. Until a hydrogen infrastructure for automobiles is put in place, there isn't much sense in developing cars that run on hydrogen, especially when that hydrogen infrastructure is many years and many billions of dollars away.

Ford's approach is to develop strong hybrids, which it already has in the market (Fusion, Milan, Escape, Mariner), followed by plug-in hybrids, followed by electric vehicles. In two years time it will have each of those kinds of vehicles in its showrooms.
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John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
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Ford prefers a parallel hybrid because it claims such a system is smaller, cheaper and better.
When it comes to plug-ins Ford prefers to go with a parallel hybrid, where the engine is still mechanically connected to the wheels. This differs from a series hybrid, like the Chevy Volt, where the engine is only used to recharge the batteries and is not connected to the wheels.

Ford prefers a parallel hybrid because it claims such a system is smaller, cheaper and better. I just had the chance to drive Ford's plug-in Escape that uses a parallel system, and it's interesting to see how it differs from the Volt. It offers up to a 30-mile range in pure EV mode and it will stay in that all-electric mode up to 40 miles an hour. At any speed over 40 mph the engine comes on, but that's typically at cruising speeds where the engine is most efficient.

In most strong hybrids you have to go very easy on the accelerator pedal to keep it in EV mode. But with the plug-in Escape, you can accelerate at a relatively brisk rate without getting the engine to kick in. Of course, if you really put your foot into it the engine will come on.

With the Volt you get up to a 40-mile range in pure EV mode, and you can drive it up to its top speed or accelerate as hard as you want without getting the engine to come on. But once you hit that 40-mile mark, or if the batteries hit 50% discharge, the engine comes on and stays on until you stop, plug-in and recharge.

I'd say [the Focus EV] is almost ready to go in the showrooms right now except for one thing: the cost.
To stay in EV mode for 40 miles Ford says that a series hybrid system like the Volt needs a bigger battery pack. That means more mass and packaging space and since they use lithium-ion batteries, significantly more cost. A parallel hybrid, since it relies on the engine to do the heaviest work, can get by with a smaller battery pack, hence at lower cost.

I also had the chance to drive Ford's electric Focus and came away quite impressed. Though it still needs a few minor calibration tweaks, this car already performs admirably even though it won't be in production for another two years. It accelerates briskly from a standstill, yet still has enough get-up-and-go at 50 mph to accelerate and pass other cars. In fact, I'd say it's almost ready to go in the showrooms right now except for one thing: the cost.

To get a 100-mile range in an EV, which is what most automakers seem to be shooting for, requires a big battery pack. In the case of the Focus EV the cost of the li-on batteries is close to $30,000 at today's prices.

...li-on batteries cost close to $30,000 at today's prices.
There are quite a few lithium-ion battery companies gearing up for production and the volume is going to ramp up fairly quickly. But unless or until the price of these batteries comes down significantly it's hard to see how these cars will be anything but a very small niche in the marketplace, whether they're series or parallel or pure EV.


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  • 44 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Thanks John for this very tasty insight into Ford's plans. I've been working on series hybrids since a few months before the Volt was announced, so clearly I'm a fan of that set up. I've always been a Ford guy, but this is one instance where I've gotta side with GM. I see their point about reducing the cost of the EV side of the car since it can get a little more help from the engine. And it's also clear that, for highway driving especially, it makes more sense to send mechanical power directly from the engine to the wheels rather than converting it to electrical and back to mechanical as in a series hybrid.

      But in terms of long-term product development, which is what they're talking about here, I just see the plug-in series hybrid as such a logical pathway to pure BEVs. It's the perfect way to achieve BEV acceptance without the range anxiety hurdle. As the batteries improve, the range extender is less and less needed until they start offering a version of the car without one entirely. In terms of development costs, you've already got a fully functional pure electric car.

      I've been following the PHEV Escapes that they've got on the road with utility companies, and I was hoping some time soon, we'd see a modified one running a series hybrid setup, but I guess the omission was deliberate. Too bad, they're HySeries drivetrain came out at the same time as the Volt (Detroit '06 in the weird Airstream concept) and then was shown in an Edge running a fuel cell as the range extender. I was hoping we'd see version of this drivetrain burning gas instead of hydrogen that would be more down to earth, but I guess that's not happening.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think the best of both worlds is Diesel Hybrids, more torque, more mpg, and you can run on bio diesel. The VW Group is heading the right way in my opinion.

      http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/03/vws-golf-diesel/

        • 5 Years Ago
        In a series hybrid, the engine always runs at full bore or is off. A Diesel has no noticeable efficiency advantage over a gas engine at full throttle or when off. And the Diesel engine has to be much larger and heavier to make the same output.
        • 5 Years Ago
        this discussion isn't about the type of engine, it's about how you integrate that engine into the drivetrain: use it simply as a battery charger (Volt) or actually connect it to the drive motor and wheels (prius, escape).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Plug-in, non-series hybrids are the real big mistake. It's good that Ford makes a good non-plug in hybrid, because plug-in hybrids with no useful zero-emissions range will be a difficult sell. I know they do save energy, but it's difficult to explain what they do to the customer.

      With a series hybrid, it's easier. You say "if you drive less than 40 miles in a day you won't use any gas".
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's a really good point, hadn't thought of that. Customer perception is a huge factor, and it would definitely be hard to explain in a few words. EPA ratings would also be a lot more confusing than the simple "EV range + charge sustaining mode mpg" that would fully define the Volt's performance. They might decide on a standard for testing the fuel efficiency and coming up with an over mpg number which might be high enough to catch attention in a simple one-liner advertisement.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This could be a little bit off subject and I apologize for that, but i don't see how more pure electric vehicles would do here with our -40 to -50 Farenheits winters when our car have to warm up for half an hour to an hour before we can drive them....
        • 5 Years Ago
        If you actually see those temperatures during the winter, than I'm guessing you've plugged in a block heater before. Cold climates are definitely an obstacle for pure BEVs (depending on chemistry, batteries will have a decreased capacity in the cold), but it becomes less of a problem if your car stays plugged in in the cold. Overnight (when it's coldest) that's not a problem for most people who would need to be charging anyways. The charging process can generate some heat anyways, and it's not hard at all to integrate a mains-powered battery warming system (the Reva G-Wiz does this in London, UK). In Norway, the same car is actually fitted with a fuel burning heater - afterall, a heating job is the one time burning fuel is extremely efficient!

        I've sent li-ion powered snowmobile up to Greenland and it worked fine in -40 weather simply because it was always plugged in as soon as it came back home. Requires a bit of a change of habits, but it does address the cold problem to a certain degree.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There's a somewhat easy partial work-around for that - timers exist to warm up coffee for breakfast - you could do the same with a still-plugged-in EV if you go to work at the same time every morning. And overnight stays probably cold-soak a car worse than during the day at work.
      • 5 Years Ago
      How much hydrogen infrastructure do I need if I can make my own hydrogen, at home, as Honda envisions it? (http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/home-energy-station.aspx)
        • 5 Years Ago
        It takes high amounts of energy to convert air into its component parts, which means that there's a lot of up-front extra cost involved in installing the home hydrogen plant due to the stronger electrical foundation that's required. Extrapolate that out on a larger scale - thousands of homes, for a start - and then you'll have to start thinking about improving the whole grid to handle the added load.

        Don't get me wrong, I think the Honda approach to hydrogen fueling is brilliant and easily workable - but as usual, it boils down to the money.

        Also, what happens when you go on vacation? There are still going to have to be hydrogen fueling stations beyond the one in your house. (Ironically, it's a similar problem to what they had when the gasoline automobile was in its infancy - you were limited by where the available fuel stations were, until the market caught up with technology.)
      • 5 Years Ago
      The series hybrid system is very elegant. Essentially it's the same way a diesel-electric locomotive works except there's a battery added to make it possible to move without the combustion engine running. I love the idea but there are a lot of shortcuts that a manufacturer can take if they go the "strong" hybrid route.

      A 100hp series hybrid requires a 100hp electric motor and electricity supply system. However a "strong" hybrid could get away with a 50hp electric motor (enough to cruise with) and use it's combustion engine to make up the difference when the driver floors it.

      If you still think the series hybrid is the better solution; consider that the series hybrid has to lug around a bigger motor and generator while giving the same performance.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm not sure this argument holds water, Joshua.

        Unless you're going at full-throttle all the time, you won't continuously need all 100hp in EITHER case. Most cars cruise using much less hp than their max ratings.

        Therefore, in a series hybrid, you can get away with a 100hp electric motor, and say, a 20hp generator for charge maintenance... if you let that motor charge the batteries when excess power is available, you may not see any performance drop-off until the extremes of range are seen - and conceivably use much less gasoline in the process.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Pretty big talk for a company that just posted a $424 MILLION Q2 loss, burned a BILLION dollars in the same quarter and is leveraged up to it's eyeballs. How longer can their cash burn go on before C11 and a trip to the Bailout Buffet?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Obviously you spend less time becoming informed than you do blogging. Ford cash burn rate is the lowest in a year, debt is being paid down and with Ford's stock being on the rise, it makes an enticing opportunity to swap out more debt with equity that will appreciate. Perhaps if you were an informed person, you would have realized that even Toyota and Honda will post operating losses and the street has it that Ford's operating loss in Q2 will be lower than the other two.

        Ford is not leveraged as you note - and the tone is meant to insult the company for actually having the NERVE to use its own assets as collateral for loans to weather the economic storm. And with Ford already reducing burn rate to under a $1 billion a quarter and DECREASING with each quarter executing its plan, there will be positive cash flow soon to pay down debt directly - and if you were aware of the fact that Ford is the ONLY automobile company to operate its own department specifically to ascertain monetary conditions and to act directly without a third party bank or brokerage, you would understand more fully Ford and how it has changed from 2006 before Mulally arrived.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The difference is that they've got something to show for all that spending - an almost totally new product lineup and engineering that easily rivals the best in the world. You have to spend money to make money, of course, and I think Ford is on the verge of making LOTS of money.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sure it is big talk, because Ford has their head screwed on right and know what they are doing. Their opinion is important.
        One thing they are not doing is expecting to make a yearly profit before 2011, and then only if the market shows significant recovery, but at $1B cash loss per quarter, they could carry on further.
        Ford is making great product and business strategy choices that are working out just fine in terms of market share gains. If they have an opinion about EV technology strategy, it is probably worth listening to.
        Your opinions however...not so much.
        BTW, check out your votes.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow did you seriously just say that?

        New GM's best work is a Camaro. They had plenty of time to fix that. It's turning out to be humorous at this point.

        They have the same people warming the bench that used to be making the big calls. What do you think is gonna happen with GM? They made it through all the press releases about bankruptcy, now back to the way things were again.

        I never thought I'd say it but I think Chrysler has a better shot than GM going forward once they get some capital to move forward on their new lineup.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ford might have had a chance had the government kept its nose out of the car business and let Chrysler go Chapter 7 and GM have a real Chapter 11 (not the fake "bankruptcy" then went through recently). But how can Ford compete against two massively subsidized rivals?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I bet when Toyota and Honda's second quarter reports roll in, they're much, much worse.

        Their sales numbers are down much further and they have taken small if any actions on getting production capacity down to meet current demand.

        We won't even talk about GM and Chrysler.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I completely disagree with Ford.

      With the Volt, you get the best of both worlds. Electric car efficiency, without the worrying about the battery drain of a normal electric car.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You don't get the best of both worlds with the Volt.

        Here's why - the gasoline engine is too large and oversized for the application it is called for. A two cylinder biodiesel engine would be all that is needed. Plus the volt is too expensive for regular applications as it is envisioned. Then there is the fact that there aren't enough energy inputs that aren't fossil fuel oriented - perhaps having solar skin (more than just what the Prius does) that is available in film would do wonders to charge the batteries while you are at work.

        The problem with the Volt is is yesterday's thinking half-arsed accomplished.

        At least with Ford's design you still have the full engine capability available to drive the vehicle even if the battery system is inoperable (something you can't and don't have in the Volt). And then the Ford does what the Volt does and give you electric only for most applications for 40 miles at tens of thousands of dollars less. May be ancient thinking, but it is more cost effective for the masses.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Laser

        I agree with your point about the engine in the Volt being oversized. They might be doing this though to make the car more pleasant. Trust me, I've built a series hybrid where the engine is as small as can be, and therefore it basically has to run full power ALL the time. As quiet as it might seem when the car's going full tilt, it's really annoying when its just sitting there with the engine wailing away. From John Lauckner's webcast on ABG yesterday, it seems that GM is hoping to throttle down the Volt's engine in certain situations, like at a red light in order to make the car less obnoxious.

        I think the Ford approach, while not completely gas free for 40 mile trips, would still barely sip out of the gas tank on short hauls. That said, I could be wrong, but I think your statement about the security of being able to run the car with a dead electric drivetrain isn't true. Based on the way the Aisin powersplit planetary gear setup connects the electric motors and gas engine, I'm pretty sure the engine cannot drive the wheels properly unless the electric motors have power.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I suspect that Ford's comments are in defense of the fact that they do not have a series-hybrid to demonstrate.

      The single largest motivator, with the notable exception of performance vehicles, for hybrid drive is to increase efficiency. And when it comes to total overall efficiency a properly built series hybrid will be more efficient that parallel systems - witness modern trains, and ships for examples. Not to mention the series hybrid does not require an expensive CVT transmission, costly engine systems i.e. variable valve timing, multi-valve heads, and the alike that you need on an engine to provide power and efficiency over a broad RPM band. Series hybrids on the other hand can use the simplest of engines with as little as one RPM setting (perfect for diesel or turbine operations by the way).

      Ford may be insinuating that their parallel plug-in escape is less costly because of the size of the battery required compared to that which is in the Chevy Volt, but this argument is weak as well. GM has, in my opinion, designed the Volt like you would want any new expensive technology developed with as much consideration for longevity as possible. In doing so, they have chosen a very large battery which runs in a very narrow operating range. This insures that the batteries are not overcharged and or drawn died which can significantly reduce battery life. That will change as li-ion battery development and the automakers experience with such batteries matures. When it does, and it will likely happen quickly, battery requirements will be reduced, witness the new Ford Fusion Hybrid with its smaller more efficient battery.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "I suspect that Ford's comments are in defense of the fact that they do not have a series-hybrid to demonstrate. "

        yep. I said the same thing here when Toyota said something similar. Can't remember how long ago.

        It's pretty much expected that a company will rubbish anything a competitor is doing differently from them.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The question is: How long the eletricity from the grid will be cheap enough when (or if) plug-in hybrids became standard?

      More cars recharging its batteries using eletricity from the grid mean everybody paying higher bills, even who doesn't own a plug-in car. I don't think the politicians and regulatory agencies will allow such scenary for much time, because it's not fair. Eletricity is an essential good, isn't like gas or diesel, I mean 'directly', because no one need to pay the gas station's bill of the neighbours, like it will eventually happens with higher energy bill because of the plug-ins being recharged by the same energy of refrigerators, TVs, etc.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The only problem with your argument is that you're failing to account for the reduction in expenses for gasoline. Basically, you'd be trading one energy source (gasoline) for another (electricity), which ends up evening out or (depending on where the electricity is coming from) being cheaper in the long run.

        The next step after phasing out carbon from our transportation system, then, is to begin phasing it out of our energy system entirely. (That means fewer coal- or gas-burning plants and more solar/wind/alternative sources, of course.)

        All this will take time, but I hope it at least begins to happen within my lifetime (I'm 29, so hopefully I've got a ways to go).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Duncan, I understand your point of view and I share the same hope. I just think the low plug-in's miles per dollars factor isn't sustainable in the long-term scenario.

        Even today, without plug-in hybrids plugged into the grid, we have power shortage threats at the summer and holidays. Maybe build an efficient hydrogen grid will be cheaper than overhaul the energy grid, build more generators, etc.

        Of course I am just especulating, I'm not an expert, but I think we need calm down with this 'hype' around the low cost to keep a plug-in hybrid running.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's an important point to consider, but if you actually look at the numbers, you see that charging a car for typical driving doesn't actually increase electricity consumption that much.

        40 miles of EV driving for some typical examples (like the EV-1, Chevy Volt, G-Wiz) uses about 8kWh of electricity. A typical household consumption is on the order of 40-60kWh. So if you drive your electric car 40 miles a day on average (14,600 miles/year) you'll increase your electricity consumption by 15-20%. On top of that, it makes sense to recharge your EV while you sleep, when there is excess energy on the grid anyways (not so easy to rev down a coal fire power plant). Even a 110V 15amp socket can easily charge up 8kWh over night, so even right now, without needing an electrician to install a 220V 50amp outlet in your garage, everybody could easily adopt an EV for their daily driving needs.

        Sure there are people who drive more than 40 miles on a daily basis, but I think it's a generous distance for the average person, and my point is that it doesn't take that much energy! The difference is that you're no longer putting the majority of your driving energy to producing heat on the road.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The problem, as I see it, isn't the grid, it isn't that electricity prices will soar. After all, this will be a slowish move for many people to be able to adopt the technology and the work would only have to move at a similar pace.

        The problem I see is that there are too many people who do not have the ability to plug in, no matter what time, apartment dwellers would have to have locked, and preferably covered outlets available to them, I doubt there's alot of apartment complex/condo complex owners that will be installing these in the near future and assigning permanent parking, especially in high rise apartments/condos. There are also too many people who are too lazy or forgetfull to plug in.

        This means that 100% EV cars are useless to them and series hybrid cars like the Volt will be a waste because the EV battery will always be dead and need recharging (I seriously wonder how fast the ICE can get a useable charge up on the EV batteries on a series hybrid once the battery becomes fully discharged- I guess I haven't read up on that at all).

        Now that doesn't mean that either type of vehicle shouldn't be built, but we as a society are going to have to change our ways before either will be very beneficial for the planet or our country. I just don't see some people getting to the point where they will plug in as often as they need to, if your cell phone battery goes dead, there's a million places to plug it in, if your EV car battery goes dead, you'll need to find a spot.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ok Jeff sorry about that, then i agree with Ford with parallel hybrid but with Diesel.
        • 5 Years Ago
        that's cool, and i agree that in both cases, series or parallel, diesel makes an attractive choice. Citroen has had a few diesel-electric hybrids. Diesels are very fuel efficient, but then again, a hybrid wouldn't necessarily benefit from the strong low end torque of a diesel. Whether its a series or a parallel, the engine typically wouldn't need to run at low speeds.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why is it that no one ever mentions fully electric cars with battery swapping stations? Shai Agassi is building the infrastructure in Isreal as we speak. His business model uses 100% renewable resources, uses technology that exists today, and is economically feasible for consumers and vendors.

      http://www.ted.com/talks/shai_agassi_on_electric_cars.html

      American automakers need to stop trying to catch and and start leading.
        • 5 Years Ago
        i've been interested in battery swapping for many years (i thought I was the first to think of it for a while! stupid kid...), but I think plug-in hybrids are a more realistic way of dealing with the range issue for electric vehicles, as they don't require an intense infrastructure of battery swapping stations, and the complicated administration of such a system.

        I think range-extenders and the eventual developments of both higher capacity electricity storage and a network of fast charging stations will give us a smooth easy transition to a strong EV market.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, Israel is the size of one of our states. We have a huge, sparsely populated country to put the next generation of infrastructure in, so it's harder for us to roll out a new technology across our entire country than it is for Israel. Now you could do something on the scale of say, the corridor from Washington DC to Boston, but other than that, there's too much uninhabited space to support swap infrastructure here.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The problem with plug in hybrids is the cost. A $40K is beyond what most Americans can afford.
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