Ford’s relationship with hybrid technology has been an on-again-off-again affair, since Bill Ford first pledged to build 250k hybrids by 2010. And it’s probably a good thing the Blue Oval backed away from that promise, as the firm sold only 33,502 hybrids last year. Meanwhile, Ford still has yet to claim profitability on any of its hybrids (last disclaiming such an achievement (sort of) in 2008). Perhaps because Ford has paid dearly to tag along in the import-dominated hybrid segments, it’s getting a bit jaded about the power of high-cost, high-tech green halo cars to deliver real results. Or, perhaps Ford’s VP of powertrain engineering Barb Samardzich is simply channeling old Henry Ford, when she says:
We are focused on sustainable technology solutions that can be used not for hundreds or thousands of cars, but for millions of cars, because that’s how Ford will truly make a difference
Ford’s Ecoboost strategy (which, in addition to downized engines, direct injection and turbocharging, apparently includes weight-loss measures) is rolling onwards, with Ford announcing three new applications for 2010. The first, a 1.6 liter four cylinder, will only be available this year on the European C-Max MPV (but cross your fingers for an eventual Fiesta appearance). The other two are aimed straight at the heart of Ford’s US market share: the Taurus SHO’s 3.5 liter twin-turbo V6 is headed for rear-drive versions of the F-150, and the forthcoming Explorer will be powered by a 2.0 Ecoboost four-pot engine.
There’s even some poetic justice in the rehabilitation of the former poster child for America’s era of SUV excess. Billy Ford’s only-220k-units-off prediction of hybrid dominance was formulated in the wake of his backdown from a previous goal of improving SUV efficiency 25 percent by 2005. Ten years after that broken promise was made, and with much water under the bridge, Ford might just be building the Explorer William Clay Jr had in mind back then.
And though the company’s new emphasis on incremental change across large volumes is certainly in the best Ford traditions, there’s room to question how committed the firm really is to its new strategy. Why, for example, will stop-start systems, a relatively cheap mass-market efficiency improver, only reach 20 percent of Ford nameplates by 2014? Why is Ford insisting on rebodying a Magna-supplied EV as a green-halo Focus?
Although many questions about Ford’s efficiency/environmental strategy remain open, EcoBoost has clearly succeeded on the marketing front. By bundling a suite of strategies and technologies, most of which were not invented in Dearborn, and selling them hard, Ford is building brand equity in a name that it will be able to capitalize in the short- to medium-term. Instead of leapfrogging Toyota’s hybrids technologically, as Chevy’s Volt seeks to do, Ford is bringing as many of its cars as close as possible to hybrid level performance, with less cost and (potentially) less risk. Given Ford’s history, that’s not a bad approach at all.