Looking back at the now ten-year-old Ford Prodigy concept, the first thing you'll notice is that it wouldn't seem out of place sitting on a dealer lot today. From the razor-blade grille that gave the original 2006 Fusion sedan its "bold" look, to taillights that bear more than a passing resemblance to those of the short-lived Mercury Montego, the Prodigy lives up to its name as an outstanding example of the evolving Ford design language. The funny thing is, styling had nothing to do with Ford's motivation for creating the Prodigy. The big, slab-sided concept car was actually the result of Ford's participation in Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), a cooperative program between US carmakers and the government that was launched in 1993. PNGV hoped to create an 80-mpg family sedan, a lofty goal that marshaled the best of university research, government laboratories, and the automakers' own advanced technology groups. So when the Prodigy appeared at the 2000 Detroit auto show, Ford was touting its futuristic hybrid-diesel powertrain and lightweight body construction.
Prodigy was said to achieve over 70 miles per gallon, thanks in part to an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of just 0.199. One of its more clever features involved using cameras and sensors in place of conventional side-view mirrors to improve aerodynamics, technology that has since been incorporated into blind spot detection and lane-departure warning systems. The Prodigy's 1.2-liter diesel engine made 73 horsepower, with an additional 46 horses coming from its electric motor. This may not sound like a lot for a five-passenger sedan -- Prodigy had an interior volume and luggage capacity equal to a contemporary Ford Taurus -- but the car was exceptionally light, weighing less than today's Ford Fiesta subcompact at 2,387 pounds.
"The [Prodigy] represents an interim stage between our P2000 research programs and our plans for an affordable, production hybrid," said Neil Ressler, Ford's chief technical officer at the time. While nobody expected Ford to build either of these impossibly expensive concepts -- P2000 was Ford's pie-in-the-sky hydrogen internal combustion engine prototype -- the company did say it would put a hybrid production vehicle on the road by 2003. These plans shifted, however, and when Ford did finally debut the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, it was using technology licensed from Toyota and adapted to the standard production Escape.