DEARBORN - Ford hosted a Google Hangout virtual forum Wednesday called “Stop to Start the Savings” that was designed to educate media and consumers about the Auto Start-Stop feature that will be offered as an option on the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion with EcoBoost. The forum also highlighted consumer trends that show that the majority of Americans are driving more fuel efficiently and paying more upfront for energy-saving products.
You can watch a recording of the forum at http://youtu.be/09FZXcl5dRY.
The $295 Auto Start-Stop fuel-saving technology switches off the gasoline engine when the vehicle is stopped in congested traffic, at stop signs and traffic signals then seamlessly restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal. It can provide up to a 10 percent improvement in overall fuel efficiency, while providing a corresponding drop in tailpipe emissions.
Lew Echlin, Marketing manager, Global Cars, began the forum by drawing an analogy between Auto Start-Stop and the newly introduced iPhone 5.
“My son and daughter steal my iPhone all the time and play games on it and I count my lucky stars that it automatically shuts off when I need it to after they leave it under a couch or somewhere that I can’t find it,” he said. “Simply put, with Auto Start-Stop, the vehicle shuts off when you don’t need it on.”
Echlin also pointed to a survey conducted for Ford by research firm Penn Schoen Berland that found that most consumers are very practical – and not merely altruistic – when contemplating a new vehicle purchase.
“We try to think of customers in terms of altruistic motives and that’s very true but five-to-one their decisions . . . are simply based on the fact that they want to save money,” he said. “Eighty-two percent of customers who participated in the study said that they agree or strongly agree that they would invest in up-front technologies that would help them save money on gas.”
Echlin says the Auto Start-Stop feature is estimated to save the average consumer $15 to $20 a month.
“That means that the feature pays back in 18 months,” he said. “That’s money put back into the customer’s pocket.”
After the opening remarks, people attending the online forum were able to ask questions. One of the participants wanted to know whether there was extra maintenance involved with the engine stopping and starting more often.
“That’s really a question we get a lot,” said Chuck Gray, chief engineer, Ford Global Core Engineering Hybrid and Electric Vehicles. “There’s no extra maintenance. We have done a lot of extra work to improve the parts to the point where they have more robustness for the extra demand, and we don’t expect to see any issues.”
The same participant wanted to know whether the Auto Start-Stop technology could be retrofitted to other vehicles.
“I’d love to be able to retrofit cars but it’s not possible,” said Gray. “There are a lot of intricacies. There is a lot of engineering, a lot of control strategy and software plus the hardware that makes the vehicle capable to Auto Start-Stop, so unfortunately we cannot retrofit.”
Another participant asked what makes the Auto Stop-Start system in the Fusion better than what some competitors offer in more higher-end vehicles.
“One thing is the access to the technology. Our price point and our offering of this on our new Fusion make it available to an everyday vehicle customer not a high-end luxury car customer only,” said Gray. “We also really studied what performance metrics from an engineering standpoint it takes to have it embraced and accepted by the customer . . . and in most cases, if not all cases, we’re meeting or exceeding competitors’ offerings.”
Amy Crosby, representing the research firm Penn Schoen Berland, also spoke at the forum. One of the questions on the survey that her company conducted asked people what type of green product they would buy if they had an extra $1,000 in their pocket to spend.
“With $1,000 in discretionary income, 25 percent (of those surveyed) said a fuel-efficient vehicle was their top choice,” she said. “They’re realizing where the investment is really going to pay off in the long term.”
More than one forum participant asked why Ford is offering a hybrid model for Fusion and not anymore for the Ford Escape.
“The 2013 Escape with EcoBoost gets 33 mpg and the outgoing Escape Hybrid got 34 mpg so if you actually take it on the highway it matches or exceeds the Escape Hybrid. So the Escape with EcoBoost gets that handled,” explained Echlin, noting that Ford will offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the new C-MAX. “What customers wanted with the Escape Hybrid was room and capability first and obviously the fuel economy second. We think we’ve answer that with this trio of C-MAX Hybrid, C-MAX Plug-in Hybrid and the Escape EcoBoost.”