Ford is combining turbocharging and direct fuel injection into a package called EcoBoost claimed to improve fuel economy by up to 20% on half a million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles annually sold in North America during the next five years.

EcoBoost will be used on both four and six cylinder engines. The automaker claims its way is cheaper: "Compared with more expensive hybrids and diesel engines, EcoBoost builds upon today's affordable gasoline engine and improves it, providing more customers with a way to improve fuel economy and emissions without compromising driving performance.

"EcoBoost is meaningful because it can be applied across a wide variety of engine types in a range of vehicles, from small cars to large trucks - and it's affordable," said Ford's group vice president of global product development, Derrick Kuzak.

"Compared with the current cost of diesel and hybrid technologies, customers in North America can expect to recoup their initial investment in a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine through fuel savings in approximately 30 months.

"A diesel in North America will take an average of seven and one-half years, while the cost of a hybrid will take nearly 12 years to recoup - given equivalent miles driven per year and fuel costs," he claimed.

Ford will introduce EcoBoost on the Lincoln MKS in 2009, followed by the Ford Flex and other vehicles.  By 2013, it will sell more than half a million EcoBoost-powered vehicles annually in North America.

EcoBoost makes its debut on a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 in the MKS featuring. Ford claims the new engine will have the power and torque of a V8 with the fuel efficiency of a V6.

The automaker said the combination of direct injection and turbocharging mitigates the traditional disadvantages of downsizing and boosting four- and six-cylinder engines, giving both superior performance and fuel economy.

The 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 can deliver upwards of 340-plus lb-ft of torque across a wide engine range - 2,000 to 5,000 rpm versus 270 to 310 lb-ft of torque for a conventional naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8 over the same speed range. At the same time, the V6 gets an approximate 2mpg improvement and emits up to 15% less CO2.

Ford claims that real-world fuel economy benefit is consistent regardless of drive cycle, meaning the engine is efficient in the city as well as on the highway - unlike hybrids, which are most efficient in stop-and-go traffic.

It added that customers who tow and haul - and have long turned to more expensive diesel powertrains for their superior towing capabilities - would get the engine performance they need from an EcoBoost powertrain.

Ford said that EcoBoost - combined with multi-speed transmissions, advanced electric power steering, weight reductions and aerodynamic improvements - is part of its strategy to deliver sustainable, quality vehicles but added that hybrid and diesel engines are nonetheless planned for light-duty vehicles.

"Longer term, Ford plans to remain aggressive in the development of plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles," the automaker said.

"We know that what will make the biggest difference is applying the right technology on volume vehicles that customers really want and value and can afford," said Kuzak. "EcoBoost puts an affordable technology within reach for millions of customers, and [our] systems approach adds up to a big idea that differentiates [our] sustainability strategy in the market."

A concept - the Explorer America developed for this month's Detroit motor show - delivers an approximately 20 to 30% fuel-economy improvement - depending on engine selection - while providing room for six and luggage, along with moderate towing and off-roading capabilities. 

The powertrain lineup includes a four-cylinder, two-litre EcoBoost engine delivering 275 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque and a 340hp 3.5-litre V6. Depending on engine, fuel-efficiency will improve by 20 to 30% compared with the current V6 Explorer.

The concept has unibody construction (current Explorer is body-on-frame (chassis), reducing weight and improving driving characteristics. Overall weight is down 150lbs for the V6 version.

It also has a fuel-efficient six-speed transmission with auto shift control, allowing the driver to select and hold a lower gear at the turn of a dial.

Fuel-saving electric power assisted steering (EPAS) and other engine changes deliver a fuel savings benefit of about 5% while aerodynamic and other parasitic improvements add up to a 5% fuel economy gain.