May 24, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
When asked about PHEVs in Washington after meeting with Congressional leaders, President Bill Ford focused primarily on ethanol, and said nothing further beyond his responses at the shareholder's meeting (see http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news/message/395 and http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news/message/400. We remain hopeful that the company will agree to our request that it grant CalCars and Prof. Andy Frank permission to develop prototype Ford Escape PHEVs for an impatient market.
Here are three new "data points" that could be factors in what happens next.
EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT: The resignation of Niel Golightly, Ford's Director of Sustainable Business Strategies, to take effect in July (he's leaving to become Vice President, External Affairs & Communications, Downstream at Royal Dutch Shell), should have no impact on the company's ability to decide to agree to
TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT: This interview shows the thinking of one of the company's top engineers.
Ford hybrid manager's goal: Boosting fuel economy Q&A by Richard Truett, Automotive News | May 22, 2006
When it comes to hybrids at Ford Motor Co., Tom Watson is the man behind the curtain. As manager of hybrid propulsion systems, he supervises 350 engineers who design and tune the components and write the software that runs the hybrid powertrain.
Watson, 44, a Ford engineer since 1988, became interested in automotive powertrains as a teenager. His priority is developing technology that improves fuel economy. He spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Is Ford developing hybrids in engineering centers in other countries? Watson: We are certainly not doing any development overseas, but we have hired engineers from other regions and brought them here. We truly believe working in a tight team environment is the most efficient way to proceed.
Is it a foregone conclusion that lithium-ion batteries will replace nickel-metal hydride batteries someday? Watson: I think it is. Because the benefits that it provides are just too overwhelmingly positive to pass up on. There's less weight, greater power density and, eventually, lower cost. We think that in the long term that when you look at the cost-efficiency curve, lithium ion has much better potential than nickel metal.
What keeps lithium ion out of hybrid vehicles now? Watson: It's a matter of readiness. Historically, nickel-metal hydride's chemical formulations for batteries for consumer-electronics purposes are very similar to the formulation required for automotive use. We did some tweaking on the cells that are in the Escape Hybrid, but by and large they are very similar. So we could take advantage of the economies of scale the traditional manufacturing process had in place for consumer electronics. Lithium ion hasn't always been that way. So at the same time the lithium-ion industry has been trying to resolve some of the historical issues with batteries, it's also had to struggle with how to get economies of scale. The formulation of lithium ion is converging for consumer electronics and automotive use.
Any predictions when hybrids will appear with lithium-ion batteries? Watson: By the end of the decade.
Would the performance of an Escape Hybrid differ much with a lithium-ion battery pack? Watson: Our goal would be to design an equivalent power level in the battery pack to provide an equivalent level of performance to the nickel-metal hydride. That way we could take advantage of the weight and cost efficiencies that come with lithium ion.
So if you could achieve the same power with fewer batteries, you could save money. Watson: Absolutely. We are not making money on hybrids today. And this is one step toward our affordability.
Are there any battery breakthroughs that would make a pure electric vehicle practical? Watson: Well, certainly fast-charge, which some of the battery suppliers have been touting, is a step toward that. Higher power density, so that you are not carrying around such a burden in weight. We have been looking at higher energy storage in a hybrid, as opposed to just a pure EV (electric vehicle). What we are finding is that there is not a business equation there -- that if you try to trade to a long driving range by having a much larger energy-storage battery, you are carrying extra weight, you are essentially building back up two complete powertrains in a vehicle. So not only does your battery energy storage get bigger, but you have to put bigger motors in the transmission to be able to (get) more sustained electric driving, unless all your electric driving is going to be below 20 mph.
Is this why plug-in hybrids don't make much sense? Watson: Exactly.
Is there a future for plug-in hybrids? Watson: I do see a future for plug-in hybrids, but I am not sure the United States is the market for them. If you take a city center like Paris, or Beijing or Shanghai, the business equation might be different. But certainly with the cost of carrying around a full powertrain and the cost of carrying around a fully capable EV battery, it is a very expensive proposition. At the same time, we have to clearly investigate the cost of the energy going into the battery. You have to look at what the sources of the energy are for producing electricity 24 hours a day.
BLOGGER'S OPEN LETTER: sent by David J. Miller, who writes the Hybrid Daze blog at hybridcars.com. (I met David for the first time last week in Washington, DC, when he came to our press conference.) He's chiming in on some of the themes we've been talking about. You can read the responses at http://www.hybridcars.com/blogs/hybrid-daze/lettertoBill.
May 20, 2006: To Bill Ford w/Love from an Escape Hybrid Driver (this letter was sent to Ford CEO William Ford Jr.) Dear Mr. Ford,
Let me first say I do not envy your position. Forces beyond your control (many set in motion when you were a mere baby) are bearing down on you and your birthright. You must toss and turn each night wondering what your great grandfather would do. He was truly innovative and guided by a grand vision. He, however, did not have a publicly traded company with all the problems you are facing.
But as you and I both know, you have a diamond in the rough with the Escape Hybrid platform. I have driven 20,000 miles in my 2005 and trekked from California to Washington DC. Your firm's decision on engine size was confirmed by Toyota's choice on the Camry Hybrid.
Here's the point however, while sales are up on the Escape Hybrid Platform (I know you offered 0% financing and cut the price, not to mention paying off Kermit the Frog), you and your stock price need a bigger win. The American public also needs a bigger win when it comes to energy consumption. That is where I think you can go for it. Here are three simple, off the shelf items that can be employed.
Firstly, take the $13.3 million pay you received for 2005 (a year in which the company lost billions in shareholder wealth) and give away $12 million worth of Escape hybrids - -about 400 of them. Hey maybe you can do it on Oprah? (Perhaps Leo di Caprio, who did an O episode on global warming, will join you?). Even if you don't get on Oprah, there is over $1 million left for running the contest. Word of mouth + the internet + the gas crazy media will spread the story quickly. Larry David gave away his hybrid and people think he is cool.
Second option, is to use some of your $13.3 million to fund CalCars Hybrid Escape Plug-In initiative. CalCars.org wrote you a thoughful letter and offered a chance to do something BOLD with a proven plug-in team. Take their offer and run. In two years you could be selling the first mass produced plug-in. That could mean mucho $$$$$$ to you and your shareholders (and coal and electric stocks). You would leapfrog Toyota as the perceived leader in alternative power autos.
Finally, let Escape Hybrid owners market the cars. Customer evangelist are better than anything your marketers can put out. (No offense to the University of Michigan Marketing MBAs running the show). As an Escape Hybrid driver I know I have saved thousands of dollars in fuel costs by switching from a 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo to a 4WD Escape Hybrid. I share this info with whoever asks (many do) or whoever will listen. Tivo knows the power of their customers and recently announced that a tivo owner would become the Customer Ambassador for Tivo. Matt Ward, the new ambassador, made a video about how much he loved Tivo. He was awarded a Tivo decaled Mini-Cooper to spread his Tivo love. How about some Ford Hybrid Ambassadors? I would gladly serve as one here in Capitol Hill. Let me go creapin' around Congress in my Escape Hybrid (which Ford can pimp out for me! Maybe we can do a DC episode of Pimp My Ride). Hell, why not double down and bring in CalCars.org and make us Hybrid Escape Plug-In Amassadors? Michigan Senator Levin will be awed when I roll up on him and his 'traditional' Hybrid Escape on East Capitol Street.
Mr. Ford, you did not ask for my advice, but I took a risk on your product by being the first Hybrid Escape buyer in San Francisco. You came through. But if you are to truly change your company, the world, and the realize your green vision for the auto industry, you must be more aggressive. Many of us are out here rooting for you and are more than willing to help,
A Hybrid Escape Driver