DEARBORN - With the continuing rise is gas prices taking a bigger bite out of people's wallets, fuel economy has become even more of a key purchase consideration for consumers. Joe Bakaj, vice president, Powertrain Engineering recently sat down with @Ford Online to discuss the steps Ford has taken towards its commitment of delivering vehicles with the best or among the best fuel economy with every new product we bring to market.
Q. Do you believe that Ford is in a good position at this time to respond to changes in gas prices?
A. Absolutely. We’re in the best position because we’ve got the most fuel-efficient vehicles in any segment that you care to look at, whether you’re talking about Fiesta or Super Duty. In the U.S. we have four vehicles on the market with 40 mpg or more. We’ve got the best fuel economy, regardless of the segment. We’ve got the best small cars. We’ve got the very successful Fiesta that we launched in 2010 and we’re about to launch a successful Focus. So the small car side of the business we’ve got pretty well covered. And we’ve had a reputation for many years for building the best trucks. And our vehicles in the middle – the Fusion and the Fusion Hybrid, for example – are very well placed. We’re in the best position wherever the market goes. We’ve got great product. We’ve got flexible plants which allow us to switch the production over relatively quickly.
Q. What about new technologies? What is Ford doing to bring more customers to the showroom?
A. We’ve obviously got what we think is the best technology plan in terms of powertrain and fuel economy and we’re constantly reviewing that plan and improving on it. Some of the elements of that plan are for instance the EcoBoost rollout – we plan to have EcoBoost in all of our vehicle lines within the next three years. We’re also looking to move to close to 100 percent application of technologies such as electric power steering, which saves 2 to 3 percent fuel. We’re also about to roll out Stop/Start into our products. We’ve already launched it in Europe and we’re about to roll out that technology in the other regions. Basically, if you’re stopped at a light or stopped in traffic, the vehicle will automatically shut off your engine and then as long as you have your foot on the brake, the engine will stay shut off. Then as soon as you take your foot off the brake and start moving it to the accelerator it’ll start up the engine and you’ll be able to move. So if you’re just stopped at a stoplight or stopped in traffic, you’re not using any fuel because the engine is off. We expect this technology to be in vehicles in summer of 2012. We’re in the market in Europe at the moment, and that’s another example of being global. We developed the technology in Europe and now we’re able to migrate the same technology to the U.S. It is on the Focus – old and new – and also Mondeo, Galaxy and SMAX at the moment. It’s planned on almost all vehicles.
Q. How challenging is it to develop technologies like this that provide the customer with better fuel economy and yet still maintain the driving quality that customers are used to and want to have in their vehicles?
A. That’s a very good question. First of all, our strategy is not to compromise and not to trade off one against the other. And that’s why we started off by defining our DNA which defines the driving quality of the vehicle. So when we strive to be leader in fuel economy, we strive to do that while still maintaining our DNA and staying true to our brand promise. I think that’s one of the key challenges. It’s very difficult. It requires often some innovative solutions. It requires a lot of detailed work. And it requires a clear resolve at the outset not to compromise on the driving quality and to plan that into the program from the start and plan the technology to achieve both from the start. And it requires you to be very cost effective and achieve the lowest costs to be able to afford to do both. And so it’s very difficult and I’m actually glad it’s very difficult because that means it’s very difficult for our competitors to copy what we’re doing. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It isn’t easy.
One example on avoiding compromises is it used to be sort of recognized in the industry that you could have either very comfortable ride quality and poor handling and steering or you could have a very sporty vehicle with good handling and steering and give up on the ride quality. Well, we don’t do that anymore. If you drive the new Focus, you’ll find that it’s very comfortable and very sporty. And in the powertrain world, there always used to be the tradeoff between good performance feel or good fuel economy. We now deliver both with the technologies.