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The annual autofest known as the North American International Auto Show previews a plethora of exciting new products that we'll see and drive later in the year, from tiny urban commuters to family sedans and crossovers to hard-working big pickups and SUVs. It's also a once-a-year cornucopia of auto executives and leaders from around the world.

"There will be some really fun stuff that you'll hear about in the future" - Ford's Kevin Layden

So, in-between dozens of cool new-product unveilings on rotating stages during the two press days preceding the public show, we auto scribes grab what planned and impromptu interviews we can. Sessions with top industry leaders can be hard to get, but I was able to score a seat in a group session with then-General Motors North America president (now executive VP of global product development) Mark Reuss, and I also managed brief one-on-ones with a trio of vehicle electrification leaders, one each from Ford, BMW and GM, and what they said then remains relevant now. First up is Kevin Layden, Ford's Director of Electrified Powertrain Engineering.

ABG: Where will Ford go beyond its current Focus EV and hybrids, and will there be a Ford EV and/or hybrid on its own energy-optimized platform one day.

KL: We don't want to do a dedicated electric vehicle with all the development costs borne by a niche product. At the Michigan Assembly plant right now we're building the Focus electric, PHEV and EcoBoost on the same assembly line. Also the C-Max, with both a hybrid and an Energi plug-in, and we use that same power pack in the Fusion Hybrid and Energi. We want to be, "The power of choice" [a Ford marketing slogan], so having that choice for customers is very important. And if I want to sell the Fusion, Focus and C-Max globally, we can use these power packs wherever it makes sense. So as we go forward, you'll see us proliferating the power packs we have today. Then the question is, what do we do next? There will be some really fun stuff that you'll hear about in the future.

Ford C-Max

ABG: Is the efficiency difference between a dedicated ultra-efficient vehicle platform and a shared multi-use platform getting smaller as all platforms get more efficient?

KL: Exactly. Were going through aero studies now on wheels and tires and hood sealers on base vehicles. We have full aerodynamic wind tunnel studies going on with the base Focus and C-Max, so all of that [aerodynamic improvement] will be there for EVs. With all the pressure and desire for fuel economy, we have to look at everything, and the supply base is giving us opportunities and options. For example, we have an exhaust heat exchanger on our hybrids that warms the engine more quickly to allow for cabin comfort more quickly.

ABG: In the process of optimizing the efficiency of every Ford vehicle, are some technologies from the electrified versions translating back into other vehicles?

KL: Absolutely. We're seeing technologies developed or first utilized by the hybrid team quickly showing up on the rest of our vehicles. For example, 100 percent of our vehicles now have electric power steering. That was something we looked at first for hybrids, then realized that it improved both packaging and efficiency on conventional products as well.

ABG: But while using conventional platforms and manufacturing facilities for its EVs and hybrids gives Ford great economies of scale, couldn't you get much greater vehicle efficiency from an dedicated efficiency-optimized EV platform? Will we will ever see one from Ford?

"I don't think we need a dedicated EV to be as efficient as we want to be"

KL: I would never say never. But if you do a new platform with electrification in mind, many of the efficiencies [of a dedicated] platform can be garnered. With batteries becoming more energy dense, they can get smaller, so we can package them where we couldn't before. And if we design it from the ground up, we can make sure there's a place for that battery. I don't think we need a dedicated vehicle to be as efficient as we want to be. We have some PHEV customers getting over 95 percent of their range from the battery alone, and overall, they're reporting about 75 percent of their miles. The average US driver needs about 21 miles one way, so we can cover about half of their range if they can charge at work. And with the infrastructure, the number of charge stations, growing, it's gaining momentum.

ABG: In my experience, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve claimed battery-only range from any plug-in hybrid. Are Ford PHEV drivers hypermiling to do that?

KL: In general, no, but some probably are. In my own commute, I'm getting 26 miles of EV range at 45 mph. But with that 21-mile range number based on an EPA estimate, if you're running heat or air conditioning, those things can really rob your range. And how to get more efficient air-conditioning and heating are among the things we're looking at. I've had customers in Northern California tell me they don't even use their cars' heater, only the seat heaters, which give them all the comfort they need.

ABG: How much of a PR hit was it for Ford to back off on hybrid fuel economy claims?

KL: For engineers, that's just another challenge. How do we continue to improve things to maximize fuel economy? How do we make sure customers understand what they are going to get? When customers see numbers on a label, we want them to be confident of achieving those numbers? We need to be sure that the label says what they're going to get, that we don't undersell or oversell it. We have some hybrid customers getting 56 mpg and others struggling to achieve what's on the label. That is a difficult analysis to do, but it was definitely something we needed to adjust.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 27 Comments
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Months Ago
      Ford is a company without rudder. It just doesn't know where to go. Missed the EV leadership to Tesla. Missed the performance market to BMW. Missed the luxury market to MB and Lexus. Missed the hybrid to Toyota and Honda. Its only savior: F-150
      m_2012
      • 11 Months Ago
      Translation: They have small efficiency plans.
      Grendal
      • 11 Months Ago
      "We're going to stick with what we know." "We'll just let Tesla keep going after the weird EV customer."
      Actionable Mango
      • 2 Months Ago
      I know. It's almost as ugly as an SUV with half conventional doors and half gullwing doors.
      brotherkenny4
      • 2 Months Ago
      A stodgy old corporation who will be surpassed by more forward thinking and efficient companies with a longer term outlook on the future.
      Boyd
      • 2 Months Ago
      I was hoping they would extend the range of the focus electric by about 20%. At 90+ miles, i would be very interested.
      AddLightness
      • 2 Months Ago
      "But if you do a new platform with electrification in mind, many of the efficiencies [of a dedicated] platform can be garnered. With batteries becoming more energy dense, they can get smaller, so we can package them where we couldn't before" Oh, is that why there's a big ass battery taking up the cargo space in the C-Max and Fusion Energi models? Hopefully he's referring to future new platforms because nearly unusable cargo space is the main reason I did not choose either of the Energi Models and went with a Leaf instead.
      Ziv
      • 2 Months Ago
      If Ford was able to squeeze another 8 or 9 miles of AER out of their existing Ford Fusion Energi while making the boot a bit more useful/roomy and reducing the MSRP by a couple thousand dollars or so, they would have an even bigger hit on their hands. They are close to having a very good car. As it is, it is too much of a compromise. I love my Volt, but I would pay good money to Ford if they had 30 miles of AER, given their larger back seat. Heck, give me the increased AER and just one of the two other improvements, and I would jump ship from GM to Ford when my lease runs out in 2016.
        Actionable Mango
        • 2 Months Ago
        @Ziv
        Yes, the Fusion Energi is so close to being great, yet so far. The AER is okay for me, but losing half the trunk is a deal breaker by itself and then the exorbitant cost over the hybrid destroys the economic incentive of electric driving.
      Major
      • 2 Months Ago
      Ford is a real car company, while Tesla (in the words of Forbes 9/23/2013) is, "Between the tax credit arbitrage and the accounting shenanigans...a company held together with financial bubblegum...Tesla is a cult stock where reason is thrown out the window. It is one of those rare business models where you can sell every car at a loss and because of government largesse, make it up on the volume." How about considering a real car company, making real money selling real cars. That would be Ford.
        skierpage
        • 2 Months Ago
        @Major
        People have been moving the goalposts on Tesla for a decade now. Tesla wasn't a real car company when it announced an electric Lotus, nor when it built its its own motor and battery controller, nor when it sold 2500 of them (Tucker sold 59 Torpedos), nor when it started manufacturing its own bodies in its own factory, nor when it started shipping and selling tens of thousands of cars worldwide. Now you helpfully tell us it isn't a real car company because it only sells one great award-winning model and only makes a billion dollars in auto sales revenue. What is "real" anyway? Since that Forbes report Tesla reported $380,000,000 in car sales (not including tax credits) in Q4. Put your money where your mouth is and short the stock.
      purrpullberra
      • 11 Months Ago
      So Ford joins the list of those unwilling and unable to contemplate competing against Tesla for the next 5 years at least. Wow. This is Total Capitulation!
      Dave D
      • 2 Months Ago
      "We don't want to do a dedicated electric vehicle with all the development costs borne by a niche product." You know, 3 years ago, this was a valid statement for a major automaker. Maybe 2 years ago. POSSIBLY even a year ago. Now you see Tesla essentially destroying BMW 7 series and Merc S series and they plan to go into the <$50K range with their next car....and you still don't see a problem? BMW and Mercedes are reacting and realize they have to. Audi is even reacting. GM? I don't think they will until they see the ELR is going NO WHERE against the Model S. But at least they took a shot at the title and now we'll see if they're smart enough to react. Ford??? Wow. Really...just wow. Yeah, time to short Ford.
      David Murray
      • 2 Months Ago
      To put things in perspective, Ford sold more Plug-in vehicles last month in the USA than any other manufacturer. Their offerings are obviously entry-level for the plug-in market, but they have many advantages is both manufacturing and marketing with their line up. It is much easier to sell a Cmax Energi to a customer who came to the dealership looking for a Cmax, since it is basically just a higher trim level. Because it is a PHEV, the customer feels much less risk than going to a pure electric. And since the Energi cars are not a dedicated platform, they can be manufactured much less expensively than something like a Volt. A Cmax Energi shares most of the same parts with a regular CMax allowing it to take advantages of economies of scale. Don't knock Ford. They have several more PHEVs coming this year and next and I suspect they will be the number 1 seller of plug-in cars for a while.
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