Ford banking on EcoBoost

As Ford Motor Co. tries to reconfigure itself, the company is banking on a new engine platform to do just that

As Ford Motor Co. tries to reconfigure itself, the company is banking on a new engine platform to do just that.

Ford’s director of sustainable business strategies, John Viera, outlined the manufacturer’s future plans utilizing EcoBoost, a gasoline turbocharged, direct-injection engine Viera said can improve fuel economy as much at 20% and cut CO2 emissions 15%.

“The beauty about Ecoboost is, particularly with the turbo-charging, you get terrific performance, torque-diesel like performance, and you’re getting it with the gasoline engine so you’re getting great fuel economy,” Viera said during a press conference Monday at the 4th Annual AltWheels Fleet Day at Staples World Headquarters in Framingham, MA.

Fleet Day is an opportunity for manufacturers, OEMs and customers to view alternative vehicles, products and exchange ideas on the future of the industry.

Ford expects to have the EcoBoost in 90% of its nameplates by 2013. In essence, EcoBoost improves an engine’s efficiency and performance while shrinking its displacement. For example, a 3.5L V-6 with EcoBoost offers a 10% improvement in fuel economy over a competitor’s 4.6L V-8 while producing greater torque, Viera said.

In addition, because of the price difference, Viera said an inline 4-cylinder EcoBoost will recoup its purchase price in 20 months while an inline 4-cylinder hybrid engine will require 7.9 years.

“And it’s not like hybrids [where] the main benefit is in city driving because you’re using the energy from regenerative braking,” Viera said. “EcoBoost is really fuel economy across the entire range of how you use the product. It doesn’t have to be city, it doesn’t just have to be highway, it’s 10 to 20% improvement on city and highway driving.”

The 2009 Lincoln MKS and the 2009 Ford Flex will enter the marketplace as the first two vehicles with an EcoBoost engine. An F-150 will debut in 2010, but customers can expect the engines in the entire line of Ford trucks and vans, Viera said.

One problem Ford may face is in municipalities that want to appear “greener” to their residents when purchasing fleet vehicles.

“One of the challenges we have, particularly in Europe, is that a lot of the fleets out there were saying there’s the price premium associated with the fact that they can say they have hybrids. If [they] say we have EcoBoost, maybe [they’re] not able to sell that as well,” Viera said, adding that Ford is aware of that potential and will have to focus on an education program to combat the issue.

Fleet managers wanting to purchase V-8s or diesel alternatives will still be able to, Viera said. “We’re going to still have diesel applications here in the U.S. because there are some applications that just require the absolute torque that you get out of some of the diesel engines we provide,” Viera told Fleet Owner. “I think the high volume is going to move to the EcoBoost V-6 as opposed to the V-8s, but it doesn’t mean the end of the V-8s.”

Whether its diesel, V-8s or hybrid technologies, Viera insisted fleet managers will still have options. “Maybe what we do is work with upfitters in terms of conversions as opposed to producing them ourselves internally,” he said. “Our problem is our scale—if we’re only selling 10,000 units of a vehicle that runs on a fuel, the resources required to do that are the same as if you have a vehicle that has 200,000 in sales. So in that case, it might make more sense to go to upfitters and partner with them to provide that kind of [technology], and that could be hybrids as well.

“We’re looking at commercial applications for hybrids on our Econoline vehicles and some of our bigger vehicles, but probably more on the upfitter route versus direct,” he added. “But then that way, municipalities can say [their] whole fleet of vans are hybrids and that’s what’s important to a lot of them.”

Ford is also importing its Transit Connect van from Europe this year and has high hopes for commercial applications. Whether future plans for the van involve EcoBoost, hybrid technologies or strictly diesel, Viera offered few hints.

“We’re looking at all kinds of alternatives for that,” he said. “I can’t divulge any specific product plans, but we know that application is right, so if that application is right, then it gets back to looking at the future and putting the right technologies in that vehicle that make the most sense for that vehicle and it gets back to the affordability. Even for commercial fleet operators, they’re going to look at if I have an EcoBoost in that product versus a hybrid that might cost more versus a diesel. I’m going to look at my particular application as a fleet customer and do the math.”

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View more Fleet Owner news relating to alternative fuels, hybrid technologies, fuel conservation and diesel fuel prices.

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