By on March 12, 2012

While both General Motors and Chrysler are putting their money on Compressed Natural Gas options for their pickup-truck lineups, Ford is going with pretty much everything but CNG as it examines alternative fuel strategies for future vehicles – and for now, the 3.5L Ecoboost V6 will be the standard bearer for light duty versions of the Ford F-Series.

Automotive News spoke with Ford product development boss Raj Nair, who told the outlet

“Relative to what we’re achieving with EcoBoost and our electrification strategy in the U.S., what we’re achieving with the diesel strategy here in Europe and elsewhere, those are more solid bets to put really solid investments in for mainstream offerings,” 

Nair also cited CNG’s lack of infrastructure as another reason to avoid CNG. But Chrysler’s Ram Tradesman pickup will come in a CNG powered variant, while GM will offer a Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra with a 6.0L V8 that can switch between CNG and regular gasoline.

Buried in the article is a quote from Nair stating that Ford will

“…do conversions for pickups that would allow them to run on natural gas, Nair said. The market for trucks using the technology will be “very dependent on what the regulatory environment is going to be.”

So, Ford is still hedging their bets, and looking to see if this “Made in America” fuel will get the kind of economic incentives that EVs and plug-ins  are privy to. Chrysler and GM will join Honda as the big purveyors of CNG powered cars in the United States – Honda sells the Civic GX in small volumes.

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58 Comments on “Ford Bets On Ecoboost, Chrysler And GM On Natural Gas For Pickups...”


  • avatar

    There was once a lack of infrastructure for gasoline too.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    The big risk in Ford’s strategy is that, at least according to Consumer Reports (one may or may not view its reliability ratings as the best indicator of reliability; I do, given the sheer number of vehicle owners surveyed and the methodology they use over proper intervals of time):

    The ecoboost versions of Ford’s motors all are far less reliable than the same non-ecoboost versions of the same motors, in the same vehicles, even earning many of Ford’s ‘eco-boosted’ cars the dreaded black dot on motor and overall reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      What makes the Ecoboost appear “far less reliable”? I find CR highly suspect and have little use for their automotive advice. However, in the interest of having an open mind, I ask this: Is the ecoboost less reliable simply because of its inherent complexity? As an example, pretty much all suspensions with an air bag spring will almost always show up as much worse than average by that magazine. Well, compared to a steel spring and standard shock of course it will. It does not mean that the air bag suspension is unreliable though. I strongly suspect that same logic applies here. I wonder how the reliability of other turbo engines stacks up, at least in those cases where non-turbo versions are also available…

      • 0 avatar
        jimmyy

        fordf150.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=80&t=102411

        fordecoboostforum.com/index.php?/topic/
        240-f150-ecoboost-problems/

      • 0 avatar
        MrNiceGuy998

        A lot of the issues that the forums link to the Ecoboost seem relate to poor transmission tuning, the 6 speed in Ford Trucks seems to need at least one reflash before it behaves reasonably well

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        It is not the complexity of ecoboost that leads to less reliable engines but its newness.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Golden, those are good questions you ask, IMO, about complexity of motors and the similar issues that may present themselves in other, similarly complex motors in other makes.

        I am of the opinion that, yes, as complexity increases, so do the number of things that can go wrong as well as the frequency at which they will tend to go wrong.

        As far as other makes, I am patiently awaiting the intermediate and longer term results of the new fad of attaching even low boost turbos to relatively small displacement motors pulling porky vehicles, ala Chevy Cruze, before I am convinced that despite claims that modern tubocharger-motor harmony is perfected and reliable.

        Europe led the way in turbocharging small displacement motors as a means to increase economy to meet stricter mpg requirements (lest heavy taxes be imposed), but I am not as persuaded from what I’ve read that this trend hasn’t been without its serious reliability consequences, and I also think its worth noting that North American cars are quite heavy (e.g. a VW Polo vs a much heavier Cruze).

        That Ford is going to put the ecoboost in some of work series trucks will either work out ok for them, or result in a potential serious hit to their reputation amongst a class of individuals who are not going to be very understanding or forgiving of issues with the motors of their work trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Looked at all 61 complaints listed in jjimmy’s link. All seem to have some variation or another with the same group of complaints. Does this mean a pattern? Don’t know. But is this a scientific method of checking for pattern failures? Not so sure it is. But if so, jjimmy, take a look at this:

        http://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/toyota_engine.html

        Not all are old models either. Point I am making is that when you build millions of something, a fractional failure percentage will make what seems like a large number of problems if you are counting posts. Still, it seems Ford may have some bugs to work out. Nullo, care to weigh in with what you see in your service bays?

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I’m not a regular subscriber to CR, so I don’t have access to their “behind the paywall” information, but, flawed as it is, the sheer volume of CRs responses makes it impressive. True Delta has much better methodology, but not near as many numbers.

      It stands to reason that exotic technologies (turbo/super charging, DI) are going to be less reliable, especially with a company that has less institutional experience with them. Say what you will about Saab, but they have (had) been making turbocharged cars for longer than just about anyone else.

      I think mass adoption of DI will be the next big fail, because there’s no gasoline to dissolve the gunk that accumulates on the intake valve stem and seat that is sucked in through the PCV system. I notice that Toyota’s DI engines (at least in Lexus) have a split injection system that injects a very small amount of fuel into the intake system — probably to keep those valves clean — even though most of it is injected directly into the cylinder. Then, of course, there’s the high pressure fuel pump which DI requires and which can fail . . . as BMW owners know all about.

      After about 4 years or so, it will be interesting to see what owners’ experience is with the 2-liter DI engine now in the Focus.

      I know if I owned one, I would get some sort of intake valve system cleanout, like “Seafoam” spray once a year.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Reliability has been very good on the EcoBoost trucks. Considering the huge amount of them purchased already it’s telling that the worst that’s out there are a few small forum threads complaining about shifting feel.

      A lot of that is also the learning transmission – during the delivery customers are supposed to be informed that there may be some abrupt feeling shifts during the first several hundred miles while the transmission ‘learns’ the particular driver’s habits. A ticking noise at idle is also normal – it’s the high pressure fuel pump. Ford has to strike a balance between isolating the noise from the pump and still letting the part keep cool enough to maintain a long service life.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    Hey Ford, want even more sales? How about dropping the cost of the F150 by offering a lower HP ecoboost engine. i’m sure the average joe cant afford $30k to buy a 400hp ecoboost monster.

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    I think the CNG pickups could do well in a fleet setup where some company needs to buy a whole bunch of pickups and can thus justify building their own CNG infrastructure to avoid the big gasoline bill. For consumer purchases though it’s not gonna happen.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I agree. For example, convert garbage, delivery, & postal trucks to run on CNG. Each has their own fleet storage/parking lot, and they can install a dedicated CNG station there.

      The flaw in many people’s thinking is that to roll out something like this, there must be mass initial acceptance. Instead, roll it out company by company, site by site. As it becomes more common in those situations, employees may get access for their personal vehicles, and other fuel suppliers will begin offering competitive options.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I like Natural Gas, but algae based bio-petroleum is the future. All the infrastructure is in place.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      I agree.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The problem is that algae is essentially solar power (just like all plants).

        Do you believe that we can run our entire transportation infrastructure on solar power, if only we could store solar energy in diesel-tanks?

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Algae is a great solution, and I’m pulling for its success.

        Can we run all our transportation needs off of it? I don’t know. The total solar power that could be harnessed easily exceeds anything we could actually use, but the pragmatics of doing that just aren’t there.

        But I don’t believe that there even is a need to do that, so the issue may be moot. There will be more electric cars on the road, and electricity can come from numerous sources, so that relieves demand for combustible fuels.

        But perhaps more important–people are ultra-concerned about global warming, which is caused by sunlight being absorbed & warming the environment. Algae (and other plants) and PV do something interesting–by converting sunlight into some other form of energy (whether electrical or chemical), there is less energy available for warming what the sunlight hits. Thus, extensive implementation of solar power causes a net cooling of the environment independent of CO2 emissions.

        Along these lines, there are many places in the world where the climate is already too warm, and so sunlight is more of a waste product dumping unwanted heat into buildings that has to be removed through AC. In these areas, if every rooftop were covered by algae-production systems or PV cells, the building is then in the shade, so it warms up less, and its AC load decreases. Similarly, covering parking lots with PV cells not only generates electricity, but also protects the cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      All the infrastructure for the distribution, but not for the actual production of the fuel. And it’s simply not going to be cost-competitive with CNG.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I think it is smart for GM and Chrysler to look at alternative fuels like CNG. Ecoboost shouldn’t be that hard for GM or Chrylser to make. From my understanding, GM is working on a turbo V6 with DI for some cars. Putting it into trucks too won’t be hard.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Actually GM/Chrysler don’t really have a strategy. Using a different fuel (CNG, LNG, or LPG) is relatively easy and is already a proven technology. It is more a matter of infrastructure, tank size etc. Nothing really new here and since natural gas burns cleaner, emission isn’t that hard either.

    what Ford does actually requires effort. and later on ford (or toyota for that matter) can relatively easily switch their hybrids to CNG if that turns out to be a future fuel. but it will be much harder for GM/Chrysler to develop small displacement or hybrid drive trains (and both have proven they are not capable of that)

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Actually Chrysler does have a “strategy”.

      Their 5 year product plan pretty much laid out what’s coming out very soon including direct injection, turbocharging, and smaller displacement Pentastar V-6’s. Also 4 cylinders are getting Multiair, as well as better transmissions. 6 speed dual clutch, 9 speed FWD, and 8 speed RWD transmissions anyone?

      But yes there isn’t any sort of “strategy”.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Not sure where hybrids are mentioned in this article with trucks. And GM and Chrysler both had hybrid trucks. They didn’t sell well. Ford and Toyota have no experience in that.

      Otherwise, Ford’s truck strategy is nothing more than DI + Turbo, something that isn’t difficult to include.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        I assume “electrification” is code for hybrid

        “Relative to what we’re achieving with EcoBoost and our electrification strategy

      • 0 avatar

        Toyota has been selling hybrid trucks since 2003 in Japan and 2007 in Australia.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Electrification is code for electric. Read the article. There is no mention of hybrids. They do mention electric vehicles, which Ford is releasing soon (I don’t think they are on the market yet).

        I wasn’t aware that Toyota was making hybrid trucks anywhere. I just read up on it. I do wonder how it is selling and why the drive train isn’t in a Tundra today. I wonder how much cost it adds to a truck and what the fuel economy numbers are. I read an estimate that said it was 23.5 mpg US, but wasn’t tested on a US cycle and that is with diesel. I am curious to see what they could do with it in a Tundra.

        I do wonder if there is a reason Toyota isn’t putting it in the Tundra, after seeing the hybrid trucks not sell well from GM. I am guessing it is because Toyota thinks people who don’t need trucks will go with something more fuel efficient and that people who need trucks will buy them without the hybrid systems that make current trucks (at least the GM/Chrysler versions) less capable.

  • avatar
    TW4

    Is Ford ever going to release Bobcat technology to the public? Dual-fuel injection and turbocharging sounds like a winner to me. Diesel torque and diesel fuel efficiency, at turbodiesel cost, and all drivers have to do is fill a 10-gallon ethanol tank once a month (or something like that).

    Why is Bobcat technology still sitting in a laboratory somewhere? I think most drivers are content to fill their ethanol tank at a dealer once a month. Furthermore, the engine can run without ethanol if necessary.

    Anyone have any info?

  • avatar
    lw

    A lot depends on who wins the senate and the whitehouse. If both go republican, then things will most likely shift dramatically. If the dems retain at least one, then we probably stay where we are at now.

    Ford is smart to hang back and the ability to go all in with CNG is pretty easy/quick.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Some problems with any gaseous fuel are:
    1) Poorer lubrication for the top pistons ring (as BMW found out with H2-Seven cars);
    2) Lower energy density;
    3) Requirement for larger fuel-cell storage on board;
    4) Poorer vehicle overall range (like electric cars);
    5) Little easily available fueling infrastructure;
    6) More complex and costly tank-to-engine delivery system;
    7) Increased vehicle weight, with consequent poorer handling, all else equal.

    Yes, some or most of these can eventually be overcome, but how much more per vehicle do we want to pay?

    An alternative biomass fuel that seems to be almost unmentioned and not emphasized, would be butanol, whose characteristics are almost identical to premium gasoline, but can obviously be “home grown” here or in neighboring areas in the Western hemisphere.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      All true but I believe that optional fuel sources like natgas, like ethanol, like LPG, should be available for those people who want to buy vehicles that use them.

      In some places across the America these alternative fuels are plentiful. Ethanol and the farm states go hand in hand, while natgas and its infrastructure is plentiful elsewhere, like Texas, for instance.

      But I remain a firm believer in gasoline, and to an even larger extent, diesel. I am not interested in electric vehicles, hybrids, natgas, LPG or diesel for myself. Just give me good ol’ gasoline internal combustion engines; the bigger the better.

      That may be old school, but I have never cared about the price of gasoline, even when gas was scarce in 1973. We muddled through. We found gas. We drove. We never walked. We got to work and back.

      And I believe that gasoline as the primary source of fuel will continue for at least the next hundred years or more. Oil will always be available. More will be found. In some places in the US it still bubbles up out of the ground.

      I learned today that Israel and Cyprus have gone into a joint venture in the Leviathan labyrinth of the eastern Mediterranean and hope to be self-sufficient within three to five years. Great news for the world, not so much for Iran, Russia and OPEC.

      Other places around the globe are just now being explored and will yield oil for hundreds of years to come. The only downside is that gasoline will be available, but at a price. We better get used to $4/gal gas and by next year the norm may even be $5/gal for regular unleaded.

      Most Americans will keep buying the gasoline no matter what the price. At $4.79/gal for Shell Premium I still buy the same amount of gas I do every week, but I eat out less often. And that’s the way it will be for most Americans if they want to drive.

      What will be hurt will be businesses that rely on discretionary spending because most of that discretionary spending is redirected to buying higher priced gasoline.

      No ecoboost is going to solve that. And if enough people buy into the natgas engines, the price of natgas will also rise until an equilibrium price is reached for all fuels. We’re chasing our own tails here.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Highdesertcat,

        I agree with everything you have noted, except that even beyond our petroleum-driven transportation system, even beyond 100 years from now, we can still “grow” liquid fuels that work in ICE’s. The efficiencies of ICE is just exploding: When I was growing up, I was told that ICE’s would top out at 25% thermal efficiency. With the recent triad of new developments (Variable valves; Direct Injection; turbo-charging), it’s now hovering close to 45%. Who would have thought it!

        Two great liquid fuels for vehicles in 2112 may be soy-based, bio-dieesl; and n-butanol for a gasoline substitute. I can see 1-liter engines in 2500-lb cars getting 80-100 mpg routinely, perhaps with light-weight “mild-hybrid” assistance that still allows good braking, handling, and cornering.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I am NOT against the development of alternative fuels and innovative sources of energy. I believe in the more the merrier.

        I believe in Nuclear, I support solar for as long as the sun shines, and I will delighted to use wind-generated electricity for as long as the wind blows. But when everything else fails, there’s good ol’ coal! Always there, at the flick of the switch.

        But the core fuel for the future will remain oil, specifically gasoline and diesel for the overwhelming majority of transportation. Let’s see airplanes use those bio-fuels and then see how much the ticket costs. Not conducive to business travel.

        For instance, I get a real charge over the Volt since I read a comment from a person who owns one but drives it on the gasoline-generator for most of the time, being forced to feed it with Premium gasoline. Not Regular. Premium!

        She should have bought a Cruze instead. For me the choice is clear. I travel a lot. Alternative fuels and various incarnations of electric vehicles are simply not my bag. I believe that most Americans see it my way. They may not like the price of gasoline, but they will continue to buy it.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        You shouldn’t buy a Volt if you don’t have a place to recharge the battery. It is like calling a 911 a bad car because it can’t transport your sofa

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        charly, she wrote in her comments that she had no place to charge it where she lives, but that she does at her place of employment.

        Her only complaint was that she had to feed the Volt Premium gas so obviously her daily driving range was greater than the capacity of the battery, necessitating the AC generator to come on to get her home and back to work each day.

        Maybe she needed that $7500 tax credit. Who knows why people buy what they buy?

        To me it seems that a Prius or a Cruze would have worked for her, but maybe she needed to project the flag-waving patriotic image that you get with buying a Volt from a bailed-out, nationalized auto manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I do not care if the disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi is a rare incident or not (nuclear accidents have been rare thus far, but from a historical context, the technology and facilities are newborns – thus making the odds of future disasters much more probable and sooner than not); its occurrence has soured me forever on the reliance upon nuclear power plant generated electricity given the limits of today’s technology and the incredible hazards involved when something goes wrong at such facilities.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly the opposite here. Daiichi has proven that unimaginable disasters can be withstood or contained and that nuclear power is much safer than chanters of “chernobyil-chernobyil” lead us to believe.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Lets see what will happen with the region around Daiichi. Also 6 big accidents with only a few hundred nuclear power plants does seem to point that the word rare isn’t used correctly.

        The bigger point is that even before 11-3 the Japanese have shown themself to be not competent enough to run nuclear power plants. And if you think the Japanese can’t run them then the question is who can?

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Charly…

        You asked: “And if you think the Japanese can’t run them [nuclear power plants] then the question is who can?”

        ANS: The French. 80% of electricity in France is generated by nuclear power, and their safety record has been immaculate. It is also true that France has more “roundabouts” than all other countries in the world combined. So I would think that electric or electric/CNG hybrid cars would be ideal for them, since vehicles are encouraged to keep moving continually and steadily just by the efficiency of their road systems. (Electric vehicles don’t deplete as much battery reserve at low to moderate speeds, but do so at top speeds (high RPM).

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        But we are not all French.

        ps CNG means you only have one or two suppliers unlike oil were you only need to outbid the other consumers

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      we could grow all of the butanol and bio-diesel we need if we were just willing to use Hemp (won’t happen), produces 3 to 1 as much energy in comparison to corn, believe it’s 7 to 1 bio-diesel in comparison to soy and even better the stalks produce 5 to 1 as much pulp/pound in comparison to trees, you think the petrochemical, lumber/paper and agricultural lobbies are going to allow that. Sugarcane works in Brazil because it grows like a weed, requires no irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, etc, Hemp would work the same way in NA (without using prime farmland), while corn requires massive amounts of all of the above. In terms of CNG, the infrastructure is there (much more so than for ethanol), the entire country is covered in NG pipelines, just a matter of setting up compressors at fueling stations (doubt the oil and gas lobby would like that one either). And Eco-Boost (+) CNG would be a winner in so many ways, so Ford’s strategy seems to cover the bases.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        to”rnc”..

        Don’t forget the “farming of the seas” for offshore seaweed in tropical waters where high growth rates occur. That biomass can also be turned into biodiesel and butanol for motor fuels.

        But, if I remember correctly, land vehicles account for only about 1/3 the CO2 pollution in the US. The rest predominantly comes form coal-fired power plants (75% of all electric power in the US comes form coal-buring power plants); industrial heating, and commercial air travel.

        Still, all told, that’s going to have to be a lot of biomass to replace the convenience and current availability of petroleum-based fuels (gasoline, diesel, jet A, heating oil, CNG).

    • 0 avatar
      Dr.Fine

      You can make electricity with any source of heat or kinetic energy. Natural gas is cheap and plentiful now, but for how long?

      Use it for electric generation and concentrate on improving the electric car. If it comes to it, power plants could burn wood or waste material.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    CNG is about as perfect a silver bullet as we can find until other technologies become more mature. Unfortunately, most environmentalists only want to talk about electric cars, anything that could possibly benefit the oil and gas industry MUST be from Satan.

    The irony is, most electric cars will likely be powered by : natural gas power plants.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      CNG maybe perfect for the US but it isn’t for the European market. There is simply no way for Europe to become self sufficient in gas and using more of it only makes Russia’s position stronger.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        There’s no need for a one-size fits all solution. There is great benefit to expanded use of CNG in the US, so it should be done. A solution that’s good for Europe should be rolled out in Europe.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    I’m not sure how CNG conversions are news — Ford has supported plenty of them for years. E.g., here’s an article from 2010 talking about E-series conversions: http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=32775

    Anyone looking to make CNG a major factor in retail vehicle sales is missing the prize, I say — it’s much more realistic as a fleet tool. I’d rather be seeing CNG press releases from Freightliner than Ford.


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