Dearborn, MI —When it comes to developing environmentally friendly vehicles, Ford claims to be the worldwide pacesetter.
Among the environmental honors it received this year, for example, was first place standing by CALSTART, a California organization that promotes clean transportation.
In a recent interview with Design News, Robert Culver, one of the Ford engineers spearheading its green car efforts, outlined some of Ford's major environmental programs. Culver is business strategy manager for the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
With the goal of tripling the fuel economy of a family sedan, engineers have developed the 2,387-lb Ford Prodigy, featuring aluminum body panels that make the car 30% lighter than today's Taurus. The prototype vehicle gets nearly 80 miles per gallon. The power plant: a hybrid electric propulsion system, featuring a compression-ignition engine running on low-sulfur diesel fuel. Said to be the lowest-emission, highest-power density ever attempted, the design features a DIATA engine—short for Direct Injection, Aluminum, Through-bolt Assembly. Bolts go all the way through the turbocharged 1.2 liter engine, holding the entire engine in compression.
Other versions of the Prodigy run on dimethyl ether or even hydrogen fuel cells. In the hybrid version, the engine can be shut down when the vehicle is decelerating or at rest and can restart without the driver knowing it was shut off.
Prodigy research incorporates many technologies that are finding their way into production cars, including the hybrid-electric powered Ford Escape sport utility vehicle scheduled to debut in 2003. The Escape is expected to get 500 miles on a tank of gasoline and should help Ford improve the fuel economy of its SUV fleet by 25% by 2005.
Ford also is a leader the in producing fleet vehicles that run on alternative fuels. "Sales of these vehicles at Ford are up 24% this year versus 7% for passenger cars," says Culver.
Still other Ford initiatives include its Th!nk Group, which has produced prototype Ford Focus cars running on fuel cells, as well as two-passenger, electric city cars.
An impressive lineup, but does the public want green cars? Says Culver: "I really believe they will accept vehicles that incorporate these features, as long as they don't have to make major sacrifices in performance or convenience."