Ford claims that the C-MAX hybrid beats the Toyota Prius v on price and fuel efficiency

Ford claims that the C-MAX hybrid beats the Toyota Prius v on price and fuel efficiency

Kevin Layden is charged with overseeing Ford's vehicle electrification programmes and is leading a team that is bringing five new electrified vehicles to market in 2012, including the Focus Electric, C-MAX Energi (plug-in hybrid), C-MAX Hybrid, Fusion Energi (plug-in hybrid) and Fusion Hybrid. Dave Leggett interviewed him to find out more about Ford's strategy for EVs and hybrids.

j-a: How do you see vehicle electrification evolving in general, EVs in particular, and what's Ford's strategy for addressing that?

KL: There are still, obviously, a lot of uncertainties and [forecasts for] the actual number on the battery electric vehicles (BEV) market is difficult. Ford has what we call the 'Power of Choice'. We can offer the customer a number of options and all the fuel alternatives that reduce your CO2, or lessen the carbon footprint – gasoline, ethanol, diesel, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, CNG, battery electric vehicles and pure hydrogen – all have a place at the table.

We want to have many products, from the gasoline-powered to plug-in to hybrid to pure electric. At Ford we have common parts and platforms which give us maximum efficiency and the ability to alter the mix so folks can still have the same experience – products with the Ford DNA - and that allows us to adapt quickly to consumer demand.

At any point in time you have to go into the customer's ability or willingness to pay in order to filter down to the right technologies and the BEV right now has a few issues like price, range and infrastructure. We have got an immature infrastructure at the moment, but it is growing rapidly.

Vehicle range capability is not well understood and we are trying to educate customers on that.

You are not going to be able to hop in and drive 250 miles on a weekend, but most people don't drive like that. But a Focus Electric has a 70-80 mile range and that is great for 75% of the population on a daily drive. They should be able to make that work. The charge system allows a 220V full charge in 3.5-4 hours. When we look at people's drive cycles, how they could use a Focus Electric, time spent in the vehicle and so on, on a daily basis, and then start looking at the cost of the vehicle, versus the cost of operating it and the payback period, we find that the vehicle has a four-year payback period.

We should be able to satisfy 60-70% of customers on daily use as their primary vehicle. There's a group of people who love this and really want it. I've never got love emails and notes like I get for this BEV – it brings many absolute joy.

To put it in perspective, it's going to be a small percentage of the fleet. But at the same time, we are poised so that if things do take off, we can benefit. If we get a price breakthrough on batteries things could change - we are working on the components to bring the price down.

By using the 'Power of Choice' strategy and putting this technology on our C1 platform, when we go to C2 and have an even better package, more capable vehicles with better efficiency and range, we can potentially take an even larger percentage of the market. We have the ability with our manufacturing strategy and the way we have the plant laid out so that if we have to we could produce 100% EVs at the Wayne Assembly Plant or the plant at Saarlouis. But we'll let the market decide what that number, that percentage, is going to be. It [BEV share] is not going to be 25% of the fleet anytime soon, but it will be a meaningful percentage.

j-a: So it's about having a range of different powertrain configurations according to customer types and needs?

KL: Yes, it's a needs-based segmentation approach. Let's make sure we figure out what that customer needs and really satisfy that need rather than trying to sell them something that they are maybe not going to be happy with. If you get customers into something that really meets their needs, they are happy and they come back to you for another positive experience. If you get them into something that doesn't really meet their needs or just meets a price point, they are ultimately unhappy and don't come back.

j-a: How is the rollout of the Focus Electric going?

KL: We started shipping in June and we're starting at the beachheads – New York and Los Angeles - and making sure that the customer is right and that the dealers are trained (service as well as sales).  It's going quite well and is a slow ramp, but we are selling about 100 a month or so in the first few months, but ramping up to about 1,000 units [a month] by the end of the year. We want to get everything right, down to the sales experience, delivery experience, all the components and making sure the introduction goes well.

j-a: When does C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid go on sale?

KL: Early fourth quarter this year or thereabouts.

j-a: There are some big claims being made by Ford for the C-MAX hybrids. How important is the model range for the company?

KL: Very important. The C-MAX will be an important product for us in North America because it is hybrid only - it will only be a HEV and a PHEV. It's therefore a distinctive vehicle that says 'hybrid'.

And we have high hopes for the vehicle and for our plug-in hybrids under the 'Energi' name – there's a Fusion Energi also. There is 21 miles of range on the battery for the C-MAX Energi and it has excellent speed capability, too. In auto mode, gasoline and electric driven, there's 95 miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy. 'EV Now' mode, if you are going on a short drive, prevents the gasoline engine from running. Once the battery is drained it converts to a hybrid vehicle seamlessly. I can take off from the house in EV range for most of the journey and then car switches over to hybrid range if necessary. My commute is about 23 miles each way, so it is perfect.

j-a: How important will hybrids and electrified vehicles be for Ford in terms of share of sales say by 2020?

KL: In 2020 we are expecting between 10-25% of our fleet (vehicles sold) to be electrified vehicles – BEVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids [the figure now is 1-1.5%]. Of that electrified total the split could be 70, 20, 10 with HEV, PHEV and BEV. It's still a bit speculative, of course.

j-a: Why would the plug-ins have much less penetration than standard hybrids?

KL: It's basically about cost and payback periods. If we can reduce the cost of the battery and other electrified components, plug-ins may well present more opportunities. A lot can happen in eight years. Hybrids nowadays are not considered an exotic technology. It's essentially a stable and mainstream technology, which perhaps would have seemed unlikely eight years ago.

j-a: Thinking about the C-MAX, it's a vehicle that has been selling in Europe for some time. Will we see PHEVs and BEV variants from Ford in Europe also?

KL: Yes, we are planning to launch BEV [Focus Electric] in Saarlouis (Germany) and C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi  will be trailing in to Europe next year. They can be built in Europe thanks to our global operations, standard bill of material across regions, standard manufacturing processes...

j-a: Can you explain the benefits of lithium-ion batteries versus nickel metal hydride and the decision to go with lithium-ion?

KL: We aren't in the battery manufacturing business so we aren't constrained to certain metals. We have nickel metal hydride battery taxi fleets in San Francisco with over 250,000 miles and still fully functional batteries, so nickel metal hydride is okay.

We have a fantastic group of technical specialists in our battery group and they are responsible for making sure that we are abreast of the latest technology, selecting the appropriate technology for the vehicle and an appropriate supplier and deciding where we are going to go. Our nickel metal hydride batteries performed well in terms of their durability and their capability. We have done the benchmarking and comparison in terms of where we want to be with battery technologies and we know that lithium-ion is going to be better in terms of capability, battery life, size and weight (power density).

j-a: How would you summarise the current position and prospects for diesel in the US?

KL: The mandated after-treatment with diesels makes the added cost difficult for the customer to accept here when compared to increasingly efficient gasoline engines. Fuel prices are also very different, so the proposition for diesel cars here is not the same. In Europe, fuel prices make it reasonable to use diesel. Diesel quality is also better there.

j-a: There have been suggestions lately that North America is sitting on big reserves of natural gas and that this could eventually be extracted at a low enough cost to give it a much bigger role in transportation. Do you think CNG is going to emerge as a significant fuel for light duty vehicles?

KL: I've seen the reports and they are certainly interesting. We do CNG and LPG in a number of vehicles here and in Europe, but the thing that is effecting acceptance is lower range and the price. But if price drops dramatically we have the flexibility to shift into the mode if that's what the market demands. Where is the market going to take us? Power of Choice gives us the ability to move. We aren't betting on any one fuel.

Kevin Layden will be speaking at the upcoming EV Battery Tech USA, an event that runs September 25-26 in Detroit.

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