Ford Debuts New Transmission System for Big-boy Hybrids

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As per its $11 billion investment in electrification, Ford intends to have 40 electrified vehicles — 16 of which will be battery-only — on sale by 2022. That includes the widespread hybridization of trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. As towing has not historically been a great strength of hybrids, the automaker is developing a new transmission system it calls “modular hybrid technology.”

The system, which debuts on the 2020 Explorer, is said to incorporate an electric motor, clutch and torque converter to help vehicles deliver superior fuel economy without sabotaging a vehicle’s ability to haul ass or whatever customers choose to hitch up behind the tailgate.

According to Automotive News, the new modular unit was designed to fit with existing rear-wheel-drive vehicles that contain Ford’s 10-speed transmission. It boasts 90 percent parts commonality with the existing tranny, though it incorporates an electric motor for additional torque at lower speeds.

From Automotive News:

On the upcoming Explorer hybrid, for example, the electric motor will put out 44 hp. When coupled with the vehicle’s 3.3-liter V-6 engine, it will generate 318 hp and 322 pound-feet of torque. It will also be able to tow up to 5,000 pounds and have a 500-mile range.

The fourth-generation lithium ion battery that powers the hybrids is roughly 33 percent smaller than the first generation that debuted on Ford’s 2005 Escape hybrid, and is packaged underneath the Explorer’s second-row seats to prevent it from taking up cargo space.

Meanwhile, Ford’s smaller hybrid vehicles will be dependent on an electronic continuously variable transmission. While decidedly less suited for towing duties than the modular system, Ford says it allows for electric-only propulsion up to 85 mph.

“Hybrids are more than just fuel efficiency,” said Dave Filipe, Ford’s vice president of powertrain engineering. “Whatever solutions we provide have to be no-compromise, especially as we get into the larger vehicles. We need to create something different to get the right answer for this customer segment.”

Finding balance will be key, and Ford thinks it can pull this off by offering a diverse powertrain lineup. While hybrids have become much better at towing over the years, customers still complain that their superior fuel economy becomes laughable once a trailer enters the equation. In fairness, no vehicle can expect the same mpg once asked to pull twice its own weight — not that most hybrids can manage that, anyway.

One of the biggest issues involves the kinetic energy that accompanies pulling a heavier load. Batteries and brakes can become overwhelmed when the downhill jaunt the car wanted to use to recoup energy suddenly involves twice the mass it was rated to handle. Ford’s modular system is supposed to mitigate this by being more dependent on the internal combustion engine at higher speeds, leaving the electric grunt to help on slower, uphill portions of the trip. While trailer fanatics with a penchant for really big loads will probably want to steer clear of hybrids for a few more years, Ford’s doing what it can to close the gap in the interim.

“It’s a much more affordable alternative to all-electric vehicles,” Filipe said. “Our competitors don’t have a story in this space. We’re going to be aggressively chasing hybrids and making it work for customers.”

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Detroit-X Detroit-X on May 17, 2019

    “modular hybrid technology” Who says the dealerships can even fix this stuff? Cue the lines in the dealership service department: - We can't make it act up. - It's a characteristic of the vehicle. - We reflashed it so try it now. - Our hybrid tech is off this week, so you need to bring it back. - We are waiting for the factory rep. get back to us. - Sorry but that's all we can do. - Call the 1-800 line sir, and get the hell out of my service lane. - The factory engineer who could fix your vehicle was laid off to please Wall Street. - It's out of warranty, so the electric vehicle tech rate is $200/hour. Still waiting for the George Foreman Grill edition.

    • See 2 previous
    • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on May 18, 2019

      @JohnTaurus There was certainly a learning curve. The problem with Obamacafe is that the goalposts move so fast that plenty of technologies are being released as fast as they can be produced only to be replaced before a solid support base ever develops, never mind that they're rushed and unproven.

  • R Henry R Henry on May 17, 2019

    "to haul ass or whatever customers choose" This, Mr. Posky, is very, very good. Thanks for taking pride in your work. --Thanks to everybody else at TTAC too. I really like this place.

  • SilverCoupe I am generally a fan of Hyundai/Kia styling, but those wheels make it look like one would be driving on octagons that would go clunk, clunk, clunk as one drove.
  • Lorenzo Electric motors provide instant torque, that's why locomotives use diesel-electric power plants, for maximum efficiency. Save the natural gas for cooking, and build EV's with locomotive power!
  • SilverCoupe As I see more of these on the roads, I am starting to warm up to them, though yeah, they should just have been called the "Mach-e" (not to be confused with the Mercury "Marquis.")
  • SilverCoupe For better or worse, younger folk do not have an internalized understanding of history. My father's generation, who fought in WWII, would not by Japanese cars, but he did not try to stop me from buying a German car for my first vehicle purchase.
  • FreedMike If you want an EV, buy one. If you don't, don't buy one. Y'all have fun on this thread. Peace, out.
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