Detroit 2008: Bill Ford talks about hybrids, EcoBoost and sustainability

During the Detroit Auto Show, a Ford press liaison invited AutoblogGreen and around a dozen other journalists to an on-the-record dinner to talk about sustainability and related topics. As a guy who writes for AutoblogGreen, I couldn't help but notice that every single person around the dinner table had been at Cobo Hall during the day. The first day's schedule of jam-packed press events ended at around 6:30 at the show in downtown, and the dinner started at 7:30 on Southfield, which is 20+ miles away. So, for a relaxed discussion on Ford's commitment to sustainability, Ford made sure that we all needed to drive for half an hour. Nice. To be fair, it's not like Ford at home in Detroit, so maybe they didn't know that there are plenty of good restaurants downtown. Oh, wait.
Anyway, the chance to sit with Sue Cischke, Ford's Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering and Bill Ford, Jr. himself made the dinner too tempting and so I headed out to the restaurant (arriving a few minutes late because I always, always get lost when I drive in Detroit). I've put up a recording of the opening discussion we had with Bill (note: for this post, I'll use "Bill" to refer to William Ford III and "Ford" to refer to the company, just so there aren't any confusing sentences) and you can listen to it here (36 min, 25MB). The bulk of this post is written from what was said then and during the dinner itself.

Read all about it after the jump.
One of the main messages that the Ford folks were saying was that EcoBoost is a great new technology. For drivers today, Bill said, options to use less fuel are simply to drive less or to buy an expensive hybrid system, both of which he kind of dismissed. EcoBoost will provide another option when it arrives in 2009 in the Lincoln MKS.

Ford does not (yet) have a partner in developing hybrids, but Bill noted that this is not guaranteed to be the status quo moving forward. Whether its hybrid tech or otherwise, Ford is open to working with partners to make cars greener. In response to a question about Ford's hybrid strategy, now that Toyota has pretty much driven off with the green/eco badge thank to their hybrid success, Bill said that Toyota has done "a great job" with the Prius. Ya think?

While Ford still isn't releasing the names of the companies that are providing the batteries for the plug-in Escapes that Southern California Edison is testing out west. Thus far, the vehicle that we saw delivered to SCE in December is the only one that is in use. Ford won't say when the second PHEV Escape will be handed over. Bill did say - and Cischke confirmed - that Ford is getting the batteries "from the same place" as GM and other companies, i.e. A123 Systems, in the testing phase. The final supplier for a Ford plug-in will be decided once more of the SUVs have been built and tested.

Bill said that in this political year, it was good that Ford said early on what it stands for in the Energy Bill debate. The fight is far from over, but Cischke pointed out that biofuels will play an important role in the future, even calling the GM-Coskata cellulosic ethanol announcement a "great thing."

Other Ford reps present at the meal were John Viera, Ford's director of Sustainable Business Strategies, and Oscar Suris, Mike Moran, and Jennifer Moore from the media side of things. Overall, the dinner showed a greenish side of Ford that, honestly, the Detroit Auto Show didn't highlight. Sure, we had the EcoBoost announcement, but other than that we had a new Lincoln MKT (with EcoBoost), the Verve, and the diesel and EcoBoost F-150 on the eco trip. Nothing to scoff at, but nothing that really lights up the ABG comments section. I know these issues are important to Bill and to Ford, but we'll need to see some real bold moves (as it were) before the Blue Oval is considered to be an eco-blue.

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