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Posts Tagged ‘Ford’

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June 27th, 2011 admin Comments off

Last month, Autoblog Green writer Eric Loveday wrote about an interview with Bob Lutz – former Ford/Chrysler/BMW executive, most known for his recently-ended stint at General Motors where he retired as Vice Chairman of Global Product Development.  Now, as a car-guy, I’ve always sort of admired Maximum Bob.  He’s a car-guy as much as a businessman, and he oversaw the development of more than a few worthwhile vehicles in his career.  But, he does have some flaws in his thinking, which are painfully revealed in the Loveday interview…

Bob Lutz

Bob’s a climate-change skeptic, and it shows in his opinions related to CAFE regulations and the federal government’s role in the auto industry.  He says of the initial CAFE rules from the 1970′s,The feds basically handed our market to the Japanese.”  He then describes how the American automakers made perfectly desirable vehicles until CAFE came about, forcing the domestic industry to abruptly redesign and re-engineer everything in order to comply.  And since change is hard, American auto quality suffered.  He also blames the State Department for granting Japan a favorable exchange-rate, making American competitiveness even more difficult.  (I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure the State Department doesn’t set exchange rates.  Am I wrong?)

Bob describes the U.S. federal government as the only one in the world that is hostile to its own auto industry because of the policies it places “against” the automakers, born of what he calls a complete lack of understanding of what is technologically feasible.  He describes a mandate of 42 mpg by 2025 as physically impossible, tantamount to mandating that all cars have to “hover off the highway by two inches.”  (For what it’s worth, 42 mpg is the below the range of what NHTSA has been considering as the 2025 CAFE rule; instead, the agency has been considering improvements of 3%-6% per year beginning in 2017 within the realm of possibility, equating to 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.  Additionally, today the White House “unofficiallyreleased a proposed CAFE target of 56.2 mpg.  I wonder what Bob thinks about that?  …Actually, I’m pretty sure I already know…)

Bill Ford

In contrast, Bill Ford – Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company – recently spoke at the TED2011 conference, and penned an opinion piece on CNN.com, describing the global gridlock we face as the number of cars on the planet doubles or quadruples over the coming decades from the nearly 1 billion vehicles we have now.  Bill accurately describes the downside:  traffic jams, squandered time, stifled economic opportunity, and the resulting loss of mobility options and lower standard of living.  He then suggests a few solutions:  better mass transit systems, smart cars, smart infrastructure, and cooperation among corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, and governments.  In stark opposition to Lutz’s tack, Ford anticipates the unsustainability of the current paradigm, and envisions possibilities to overcome the challenge.  (Lutz, on the other hand, only envisions external factors as the cause of difficulty for his industry.)

The contrast between these two auto executives – and their view of the world – couldn’t be more apparent.  It’s a good thing for GM that Lutz is now a former executive.

Observations From an Auto Show

January 28th, 2011 admin Comments off

The Washington, DC Auto Show kicked off today.  And although it’s not the premiere event on most automakers’ calendars, it is an important occasion, given the vast intersection between the auto industry and policy makers.  It’s also the auto show that’s easiest for me to attend, given that it takes place in the city in which I work…

So, as I wandered through the automakers’ displays, taking note of the new models on the floor (…and I’m talking about the cars, not the barbie-esque spokespersons demonstrating how to recline the seats…), I made a few observations.  And here they are.

Fiat 500 Sport

Fiat is here. Yes, I’ve been excited about the arrival of the Cinquecento for some time.  And Chrysler … err, Fiat had quite a few on display in various colors and trim levels.  This is a nice car. ..It’s a small car.  (Grown people may not be able to fit in the back seat.)  But I think it will sell at least as well as the Mini Cooper (its only real competition) has done.  Molto bene!

Chrysler may be back from the brink, but its future isn’t certain. One of two automakers that the government saved from complete collapse (the other being GM), Chrysler finally has an updated line-up reaching the market.  It is much improved (the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is awesome, and the new Durango and Charger are impressive as well); but I get the feeling their first step post-rescue, while big, is still a little shaky.  I’m skeptical that any of these vehicles (other than the Cherokee) will sell in large numbers.  And it’s telling that their Fiat 500 display was the most crowded spot in the entire Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Fiat area while I was there.

Buick is relevant. GM started turning Buick around not long before the General found itself at the edge of the cliff.  Through their restructuring, the Buick brand was saved, and now has an expanded (and impressive) model line-up.  The Enclave is arguably the best looking vehicle in its class, the Regal GS is bad-ass (yes, I said a Buick is bad-ass), and the upcoming Verano is a small car for grown-ups.  Now, if only they could come up with better model names…

Acura isn’t. Honda’s premium brand, for some reason, has decided to make cars that nobody wants to buy.

Ford C-Max

Ford is on a tear. From where I stood, Ford had the biggest presence at the Washington Auto Show, and had the vehicles to back it up.  They’re making great cars lately – the new Taurus, Focus, Fiesta, and Explorer (not to mention the EcoBoost powertrains, as well as hybrids and pure electrics) are at the top of their class.  The new C-Max is impressive as well.  Ford was the only Detroit automaker that didn’t require government assistance – and now they’re flaunting it.

The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG isn’t nearly as attractive in person as it is in the pictures. Sad, but true.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Right now, I’d rather be Hyundai than Toyota or Honda.  It used to be that the Korean imports could only hope to match the quality, performance, styling, and reliability of the two biggest Japanese brands.  Now Toyota and Honda would do well to aim for Hyundai.  Hyundai claims that the Sonata hybrid is designed to be the first hybrid you want to buy.  They may be right.

Mini is a brand. Sure, the modern Cooper has been around for a few years now, but it’s basically been thought of a sub-brand of BMW.  Now with the (ugly) Clubman and the (still ugly but I want one anyway) Countryman, they’ve got a whole line-up. And they don’t have any competition.  (Well, scratch that, due to my first observation above!)

Nissan may be a one-trick pony. With all the (well-deserved) hype about the Leaf, people may have forgotten that Nissan makes other vehicles, too.  Apparently, so has Nissan.  They still make some good cars, but their design language – which had gotten just a little avant-garde in a desirable sort of way – has taken a wrong turn.

2011 Audi RS5

Audi makes the best interiors.  And exteriors. VW’s premium brand gained a reputation for making the inside of their vehicles one of the most eye-pleasing environments into which a person could deposit him (or her) self.  That’s still true.  And the exteriors have followed suit.  Add to that cutting edge technologies such as Quattro, TDI, TFSI, and the aluminum space frame, and it’s no wonder Audi saw sales increase last year more than rivals BMW or Mercedes.

And finally, people need to be informed by folks who understand. The official auto show guide, in describing the 10 most efficient vehicles (as rated by the EPA), said that if a (all-electric) Nissan Leaf had a 14-gallon gas tank, it could travel over 1300 miles… What?  How does that work?  What good is a gas tank on an electric vehicle?… (OK, it works by calculating the energy content of gasoline – approximately 33.7 kWh per gallon – and falsely assuming that, because the EPA fuel economy label says that the Leaf uses about 34 kWh to travel 100 miles, it could travel over 1300 miles on the energy content of 14 gallons of gasoline.  The EPA fuel economy label also says the Leaf gets 99 MPG.  Which is a nonsensical metric for an electric vehicle.)

Electric Eye Candy

December 16th, 2009 admin 1 comment

A decade ago, Toyota showed us that transportation could be efficient but boring when they introduced the first generation Prius.  A few years ago, Tesla wowed the world (well, at least the automotive world – or rather, the green-sports-car-world) with its Roadster, showing that fast can be efficient and sexy all at once.  Then came Fisker‘s Karma.  And others…

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

At this point, high-end, electrified sports cars are popping up as frequently as Tiger Woods’ mistresses.  Two recently caught my eye.  (Cars, not mistresses…)  The first is the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.  Now, the SLS isn’t a built-from-scratch EV supercar.  This homage to the classic 300SL comes with a 6.2-liter, 563 hp V8 providing the motivation for sub-4-second acceleration to 60 mph.  But, Daimler’s Chairman of the Board Dieter Zetsche says “As of 2013, it will be available with an electric-only driveline.”  Unfortunately, details are sparse.  But given the gasoline version will probably cost around $200,000, there’s plenty of financial opportunity to install a very capable electron-based drivetrain in a couple years.

The other car that caught my attention is a new car (the Motion) from a new car company (Kepler Motors, presumably named for German mathematician Johannes Kepler, for a reason I don’t know, although I did once visit Tübingen, Germany – the town of Kepler’s alma mater – and had some really good spätzle).  The Motion – a parallel through-the-road hybrid – utilizes Ford‘s new EcoBoost engine (which I described here), tuned to 550 hp and attached to the rear wheels, while a 250 hp electric motor provides motive force at the front end, adding up to new levels of ridiculosity.  It’s good-looking, exclusive, and undoubtedly fast, but I keep thinking:  All these new companies keep showing us what they can do with electrified drivetrains – now, show us what you can do with a $20k – $40k price point.

An EcoBoost Ego Boost

October 13th, 2009 admin Comments off

If you keep up with what’s happening on the auto-scene, you’ve no doubt heard of Ford‘s EcoBoost effort by now.  EcoBoost is essentially Ford’s moniker for adding forced induction (i.e., turbochargers) to high-compression engines to produce power equivalent to that of a V8 (or a V6) with fuel economy comparable to a V6 (or a 4-cylinder).  Automakers have been doing this for a number of years now, but Ford is making it a core part of their strategy to boost their brands’ fuel economy, spreading the technology through virtually all of their models.

2010 Lincoln MKS

2010 Lincoln MKS

I just finished watching the 6 vs 8 – Showdown at Loveland Pass episode of Speed Test Drive on Speed Channel, in which the Lincoln (Ford’s luxury brand) MKS (with a twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V6 making 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque) was pitted against a Mercedes E550 (with a 382 hp 5.5L V8), BMW 550i (360 hp 4.6L V8), Maserati Quattroporte (400 hp, 4.3L V8), and Jaguar XF (385 hp, 5.0L V8).  The challenge was to see if the 6-cylinder Lincoln could keep up with the V8-powered European luxury/performance brands in a 3.7-mile hill climb up Loveland Pass in Colorado, with the finish-line nearly 12,000 feet above sea-level.  Expert rally / hill-climb champion racer Rod Millen was given the honor of piloting each of the vehicles.

The result?  The Lincoln came in second, with a time of 172.7 seconds – a couple of seconds (and about 0.8 mph) slower than the BMW, and several seconds ahead of the Mercedes, Jaguar, and Maserati that came in 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively.  More striking is the fact that the Lincoln actually reached the highest top-speed on the course (109 mph), demonstrating that it was the handling, not the engine, that caused it to fall just short of the BMW’s pace.

I’ve never driven Loveland Pass.  I have driven over Independence Pass – 100 feet higher than Loveland Pass – and realize what a challenge this test actually is.  I also know how anemic normally-aspirated cars can be at extreme elevations – a fact that certainly played to the boosted Lincoln’s strengths.  And if you’re wondering why the car with the least power appears to be the fastest, note that it’s not the peak horsepower that matters – it’s the area under the torque curve, and the Lincoln’s is wide and flat.

I’m impressed.  That the Lincoln can run with, and even outshine, Europe’s best in any test has got to be an ego-boost for Ford.  But I’m even more impressed with Ford’s efforts to bring the technology to all of their vehicles.  The EcoBoost engine in the new Ford Flex (reviewed here by Autoblog) makes nearly 100 hp more than the normally aspirated V6 Flex, with the same fuel economy.  (I’d like to see them replace that old Duratec V6 with an EcoBoost 4-cylinder.)  The same engine is used in the high-performance Taurus SHO.  And there are even plans to use a version of it in Ford’s light-duty trucks.

I grew up in a Chevy family.  (Growing up the rural south in the ’70s, you were either a Chevy family, a Ford family, or a Chrysler family.)  And though my preferences have shifted to a few German marques, I’ve got to give Ford credit.  While the other American manufacturers have gone through bankruptcy and major reorgs in the last year, Ford has not only managed to survive, but they’ve introduced interesting new technology, all while manufacturing some of the better hybrids on the market.  And that, more than anything, should boost their ego.

ecoboost logo

The Public Option, Good Karma, and the Mainstream

September 23rd, 2009 admin Comments off

If you’re keeping up with the goings-on in the alternative vehicle world these days, you might be as optimistic as I am.  As the economy starts to emerge from the sewer of the past year, indications are that momentum behind electrified vehicles is starting to increase – especially that of the financial variety.

a123-logoThe Public Option OK, so healthcare has taken center-stage for a number of weeks now, but that’s not what this is about.  I’m talking about the Initial Public Offering of shares of Li-ion battery maker A123 System’s common stock.  Without doing any rigorous financial analysis, I’m excited about the IPO.  A123 is a good company with an appropriate battery chemistry and some degree of demonstrating that it can mass produce battery cells at high volume.  Their acquisition of Hymotion gives them a test-bed and demonstration platform for using their battery technology in automotive applications.  They’ve received grants from both the federal and Michigan state governments.  Plus, they have a nice website.  The fact that the IPO was estimated to be priced at $8.75/share just a couple of weeks ago, and is now likely to be more in the $10 – $11.50 range, illustrates the excitement behind this IPO.  (This, in a time when folks are still reluctant to let go of their cash.)  We’ll know today or tomorrow what the price is, and it’ll be fun to watch what happens going forward.

fisker logoGood Karma It was announced this week that Fisker Automotive, maker of the Karma high-end PHEV, has joined the ranks of Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors and received federal loans from the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, to the tune of $528-million (slightly more than the amount awarded to Tesla).  These funds will be used to complete the development of the Karma, as well as a second previously unknown model codenamed Project NINA, targeting the more mainstream lower-cost market.  Hopefully, private money will follow public, for Fisker and for the other companies receiving DOE grants and loans.

The Mainstream I hereby declare that electric vehicles have become mainstream!  The proof is that Stephen Colbert’s guest on the Colbert Report last night was Shai Agassi, the technologically brilliant and business savvy founder and CEO of Better Place, the company planning to deploy massive electric vehicle charging and battery-swap infrastructure.  Some might say Better Place’s task is more daunting than that of the automakers.  They have certainly received, and will continue to receive, a lot of attention from the industry.  But now Shai is visiting Stephen Colbert?!  What next – will Elon Musk appear on Letterman?!…

Questions

September 9th, 2009 admin 4 comments

A friend of mine recently asked me a few car-related questions via email.  I thought I’d answer them here.

Why can’t I get a Jetta turbo diesel sport wagon?  There are waiting lists for this car all over the country.  Seems crazy. Well, that’s easy.  It’s because the demand has exceeded supply.  Ah, but you knew that.  …It’s ironic: wagons haven’t been very popular in the U.S. in recent years, and neither have diesels (which I spoke about here).  But VW can’t seem to build enough Jetta TDI Sportwagens to satisfy the American market right now.  I chalk it up to the fact that folks are finally realizing the benefits of smaller vehicles, as well as modern diesel engines.  In concluding that a wagon is a perfect replacement for their SUV, they’re finding there’s really only one vehicle that fits the bill – the VW sportwagen really doesn’t have any competition out there right now.  I’m still not sure what it will take, though, for them to increase production (are they already at capacity?) or shift more of the allotment to the U.S.  (As a curious sidenote, I think I read somewhere that the vast majority of VW Jetta Sportwagens that are ordered are of the TDI variety.  I may be making that up.)

So which brands of car are we loosing due to the GM collapse?  Which cars will we never see again and good riddance and which one’s would it have been nice to keep around. We’re losing Pontiac - they’re vanishing completely.  And good riddance to them.  We’re losing Hummer – that brand is being sold to Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery.  It’s not clear to me if we’ll continue to see the brand in the U.S., but my guess is that we won’t.  And that won’t be a loss, either.  Saturn also gets the axe, although to a lesser degree – it is being sold to Penske Automotive Group.  GM will continue to supply Penske with the Aura, Vue, and Outlook for a couple of years, and other models will eventually be outsourced from other auto manufacturers.  (Unfortunately, the Saturn Sky didn’t make the cut.  This 2-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster, sharing the Kappa platform with the Pontiac Solstice, is a completely irrational, impractical automobile – but it’s beautiful, sporty, and is a big loss in my mind.  The Outlook is a good vehicle, but might be a little too diluted, being virtually the same as the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, and Chevy Traverse.)  The Penske deal is an interesting one to me, since it’s different than anything else I’ve seen in the auto industry.  Another interesting deal is the sale of Saab to Swedish supercar-maker Koenigsegg along with Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings.  My guess is Saab will remain, but its focus will shift to the Asian market, and they may vanish from the U.S. altogether.  Unfortunately, Saab never really caught on in the U.S. – and that’s our loss.  Finally, GM may be selling off its Opel unit, though it’s not clear at this point.  Doesn’t really affect us over here, though…

And lastly why do Americans hate the hatchback?? I don’t know.  Call it an extension of the anti-wagon sentiment.  Although, hatchbacks have been successful here in the past.  The original hot-hatches, the Honda CVCC and VW GTi, were hugely popular.  And the Ford Focus hatchback sold well here, I believe.  I’m excited for the 2011 Ford Fiesta (in hatchback form) to make its arrival.  What do you think?

2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback

2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback

Green (Car) Building

July 8th, 2009 admin 3 comments

As with many industries these days, auto manufacturers are working on “greening” themselves – both in terms of the products they build, as well as how they build them.  Ford has earned recognition for their use of soy-based foam in seat-padding, instead of the traditional petroleum-based (and VOC-emitting) polyurethane foam.  Subaru operates its manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana, so that it produces zero landfill waste.  Honda has experiemented with bio-fabrics for its upholstery, and won this years EARTH ANGEL award as the most environmentally progressive automaker, while Toyota operates under a “Global Earth Charter” which takes into account the environmental impact of all if its activities.  These are wonderful efforts.

Earlier this year, I was able to visit a few businesses in the San Francisco Bay area that are housed in LEED-certified, “green” buildings.  Similar to the initiatives by the automakers mentioned above, the design and construction of these buildings take into consideration the environmental impact, using renewable, recycled, and sustainable materials in the construction, as well as innovative design techniques such as the efficient use of daylighting and natural ventilation.  The obvious benefits are a reduced environmental footprint, as well as energy savings that result in reduced operating costs.  Another, less obvious, benefit is that these spaces make people happy.  Sure, an office-cubicle-farm-without-windows would be just as functional, but (and I may be making this up) studies have shown that a person’s environment affects his/her mood, and spaces such as these can actually enhance productivity.

I’m going to take this one step further: Can the design principles that we often see in green buildings be applied to vehicles?  Now, a vehicle’s interior is the ultimate in function over form, but if automotive designers could create calming spaces within our cars (within the constraints of maintaining functionality and meeting the myriad other safety requirements), might we be less likely to give Joe Sixpack the finger when he cuts us off during our morning commute?  As it is, many automotive interiors aim to give the driver the feeling of being strapped into cockpit of a fighter jet, blasting off to do battle with whatever enemy dares creep into our lane.

This thought came when I saw the floating center console of the new Volvo XC60.  Now, I’m not sure what it’s made of, but if I find out it comes from a sustainably grown bamboo forest, I will go out now and buy one.

Volvo XC60 Panel

Volvo Floating Center Console

Categories: Automotive Design Tags: , , , ,

It’s Electric

June 27th, 2009 admin Comments off

Ford LogoAs reported by autobloggreen, Ford intends to once again become profitable in part through vehicle electrification.  This, of course, isn’t exactly earth-shattering news: the major (and many not-so-major) automakers have been making a lot of announcements regarding powertrain electrification (i.e., hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs) in the past year or two.  And, given that they’re a business, we can sort of assume that they intend to be profitable (though, not many automakers have done such a good job of that lately).  Still, this caught my eye since it is the first time I’ve noticed “electrification” and “profitability” being mentioned together.  Hopefully, it’s not merely lip-service being paid to the DOE as a result of Ford’s recent award of nearly $6B in loans through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.

I for one think vehicle electrification is inevitable, and that it’s a good thing.  The hard part is energy storage: batteries have come a long way, but in most scenarios, they’re still too expensive to make electrified vehicles economically competitive with traditional internal combustion alternatives.  (Disclaimer / Advertisement:  I recently wrote an academic paper evaluating costs for automotive Li-ion batteries.)  I’m hopeful that this won’t always be the case.  Others are more skeptical.  (One such skeptic, at least with regards to Li-ion batteries, once criticized a presentation I did at Rocky Mountain Institute.  He did, at least, confess to being an “unrepentant critic of Li-ion batteries,” as well as a former executive and current shareholder in several major lead-acid battery companies…)

In any case, it will be interesting to see how well the electrified vehicles that we’re currently being promised fare as they start appearing on showroom floors.

Categories: Electrification Tags: ,