DC 2010: Ford's Nancy Gioia talks electrification progress, status of Leno's Focus Electrics

We heard from Ford CEO Alan Mulally yesterday about his company's overall work with the U.S. government on energy policy. He's not the only Ford representative at the show worth talking to at the Washington Auto Show, though, and we got to sit down with Nancy Gioia, Ford's director of global electrification, for an update on the company's plug-in vehicle projects.

On the Focus Electric: Gioia said, "It's progressing very well. Between the analysis and the simulation and the production parts, the program is on track for a 2011 launch. We're really pleased with the way it's coming together." Even though the car's most visible promotion – the race track on Jay Leno now-cancelled prime-time show – is over, losing that channel was not a setback for the program, she said:
It was fun to see and have a little fun. What that did was it gave people an external view that, hey, these things can be fun. That it's not a golf cart, it's a regular car. We were able to demystify the car a little bit and update people's thinking on it. There are going to be lots of opportunities going forward.
Ford's contract was with the network, not just the show, and NBC is still deciding whether or not the cars will make it onto Leno's new show or not.

On the Escape Plug-in Hybrid: All 21 of the Escape PHEVs are out and about gathering data at various utilities in the U.S. Gioia said:
The Escape plug-in program has exceeded my expectations. Not only do we have the vehicles all gathering data and providing feedback between our company and a group of utilities, the Department of Energy and EPRI, we've really progressed our thinking about what does it take when you start to plug in.
Read more after the jump.

The Escape PHEV program started with just two vehicles, and the later models have a twice-upgraded battery pack, where the cells and the battery management system have been improved. The human-machine interface was changed based on customer feedback. The communication capability between the vehicles and the smart meter were upgraded, Gioia said, as was the vehicle's ability for bi-directional energy flow. One thing the team discovered was that, while the idea of vehicle-to-grid power has been talked about for a long time, there was very little work that had really been done to make V2G a reality. For example, the smart meter was not originally designed to accept a mobile source. "This was as recent as 2008, we discovered that we haven't provisioned for what I'd call an interrupt, so the system goes 'oh, there's a vehicle present,'" she said. Spotting the issue early prevented the utilities from deploying thousands of smart meters and then needing to go back out into the field and upgrade them for plug-in vehicles. The program will continue to collect data through 2012 for future programs and for future standards. "It's absolutely about open sharing of data so we can drive to open standards," Gioia said.

On not declaring bankruptcy: Not taking any bailout money has given Ford a technological advantage, Gioia said:
The whole emphasis has been on making our business better, along with customer-driven product. By not having to declare bankruptcy or being tied to, if you will, an oversight structure, we've been able to focus on delivering our plan. How can that not translate into continued focus and emphasis on our plan? I couldn't document exactly what the advantage is, but our ability to focus exclusively on improving the business and the product, it certainly hasn't hindered us.

Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by the Auto Alliance.

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