Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Is Ford First?

photo by George Lange

Last week, Bill Ford made an announcement at his Stockholder meeting . "Pressed by activists to take steps to improve the efficiency of Ford's vehicle line-up, Bill Ford Jr, great-grandson of Henry Ford, said the carmaker was considering launching a plug-in hybrid, a potential industry first.

Here is the story from Consumer Affairs.

Ford May Build a Plug-In Hybrid
May 11, 2006

Ford Motor Co. is considering a major hybrid initiative -- a plug-in car -- that could make the struggling automaker the leading U.S. producer of hybrid cars.

Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford told shareholders at the automaker's annual meeting that the automotive market is shifting rapidly because of higher oil prices and the company is trying to respond.

"Our fleet is getting smaller and we are working hard on ethanol, biofuels and hybrids," Bill Ford told shareholders.

Plug-in hybrids can be charged from an outlet and have greater range in all-electric mode. A small gasoline engine provides power for the vehicle over longer distances, much like the Toyota Prius.

Environmentalists argue that plug-in hybrid technology is the most immediate option to improve fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The development inspired plug in activists Andy Frank and Felix Kramer to write Ford a letter .

The group plans to rapidly build a small prototype/demonstration fleet of plug-in hybrids using Ford's Escape Hybrid as a platform. First customers for the conversions of several dozen SUVs would be cities, utilities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and celebrities.

The vehicles would demonstrate a range of energy storage and propulsion components, flex-fuel (E85) capability and other design solutions.

Asking for no money or other resources from the company, the group has asked Ford to release a statement giving permission to begin independent work:

"A consortium that includes UC Davis engineering Prof. Andy Frank and the non-profit California Cars Initiative is starting a project to demonstrate the potential of the Ford Escape Hybrid to operate as a plug-in hybrid.

There's a growing national interest in this technology, especially among fleet buyers, to further reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gases. While Ford focuses on expanding the adoption of hybrid technology throughout our line, we applaud their choice of the Escape as a development platform, and we will support this independent, innovative effort.

We delegate Ford advisor and designer/architect William McDonough to participate in this project."

As noted on the Energy Blog,

"If the consortium can come through with their plans to build a demonstration fleet, that would be a real kickoff for the plug-in movement. It would seem a natural to me if Plug-In Partners were somehow associated with this program.

Let's hope that Ford has some real plans to produce a plug-in; it would be the first time in a long time that a U.S. auto company has led the field in something this significant."

It would indeed, it would indeed.

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