Ford focused on lightweighting as a major enabling technology for low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles from ICEs to EVs
Ford is focused on lightweighting as a key enabling technology for lowering fuel consumption in combustion-engined vehicles (ICE) and for extending the range—and the size—of battery electric vehicles (EVs).
Ford made a splash at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit with the introduction of 10 C-segment cars, including a new hybrid and plug-in hybrid based on the C-MAX (earlier post)—this following on the roll-out the prior week of the Ford Focus Electric (earlier post). The company is also running its largest display ever at NAIAS, featuring feature a broad spectrum of new products including the all-new Ford Focus, Ford Explorer, Mustang Boss 302, Ford C-MAX multi-activity vehicle and Ford F-150 with four all-new powertrains. A fundamental theme is fuel efficiency for everyone; key to delivering on that is lightweighting.
At a media dinner with other Ford executives, including Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr.; Sue Cischke, Group Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering; and Sharif Marakby, Director of Electrification Programs and Engineering, Barb Samardzich, Ford’s Vice President, Global Product Programs, said that “the real enabler [for lower fuel consumption] you are going to see coming in the future is weight reduction.”
The more weight we can take out of our vehicles though use of alternative materials, and other lightweighting strategies that we have, that enables us to further downsize the engine—which is the biggest lever you can pull in the vehicle. Taking the displacement down gets you on a percentage basis the best fuel economy value versus other technologies. We’re talking a lot of weight reduction—500-700 lbs [227-318 kg] out of the vehicle, but still enabling the customer to have the package they are accustomed to in the particular vehicle that they purchased. Once you take the weight out, you take the engine down and get substantial deltas in fuel economy.
As new materials and new opportunities arise to take the weight further and further down, the engine team is ready to keep dropping the displacement. Then, there is no trade-off for the customer because they are still getting great performance...We’re certainly not close to the limits on that. I think we have just started as an industry down that serious weight reduction path, and I think that is the next big change that we will see and that will enable the engines to come down also.—Barb Samardzich
As one current example, the 2011 Ford Explorer (3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 engine standard)—which won the North American Truck of the Year award at NAIAS—uses more lightweight materials including an aluminum hood, engine and wheels to achieve 20% better fuel economy over the previous model, earning an estimated EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Explorer will soon be available with an advanced 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4, expected to deliver 30% better fuel economy than the 2010 model.
Samardzich said that in its exploration of different material approaches to lightweighting, Ford models different scenarios in a Monte Carlo type simulation to optimize different combinations—such as an aluminum-intensive vehicle, or carbon fiber, or a combination of those along with high-strength steels that can be made much thinner than some of the current steels—to balance the cost and the performance aspects. As an example, increased weight because of the use of high-strength steel will push the engine up in displacement, while going all the way to carbon fiber or all-aluminum—i.e., higher cost, but lighter weight body materials—allows the engine size to drop, saving money on that side of the business.
[Light weighting] is definitely not going to cost the same as vehicles today. There is going to be some cost added, but there are ways to do it to optimize the net cost we add in given all the different alternatives we look at.—Barb Samardzich
Marakby noted that you can offset some of the cost of taking weight out even on the electrification side, saying that taking 500-700 pounds out of car can result in a much smaller and lower weight battery pack (i.e., lower cost), or a longer range for the same size (but not weight) vehicle, or support for a larger vehicle size. Although Ford’s currently announced plug-in passenger vehicles are built on the C platform, the company does not see a size limit to battery electric vehicles as some of its competition has expressed.
We’re not capped at the C segment. What affects how you do the electrification powertrain is the weight of the vehicle. The improvement in energy density, which means you can put smaller batteries in spaces, makes it more and more viable for larger vehicles. I think we can head in that direction. I don’t see a limit in the vehicles. Weight is the biggest enemy of electrification. It’s not the size [of the vehicle], it’s the weight.—Sharif Marakby
Given the potential pragmatic aspects of electrification (e.g., the re-fueling infrastructure—the grid—although requiring an upgrade, is basically in place) and the enabling potential of improving batteries and lightweighting, Ford is somewhat less inclined to view hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as a critical component, although the company is continuing to invest in and develop the technology and staunchly maintains the “no silver bullet” (no one technology solution will meet all needs) stance.
We have a team that continues to work on hydrogen fuel cells, building prototypes, and we have our collaboration with Daimler up in Vancouver, but I think when we compare that to electrification and batteries, they are clearly much faster and more practical solutions that we are seeing on electrification. The investment by companies and governments in electrification has just been amazing...three years ago I never would have thought that things would be where they are today. Hydrogen is farther out.—Sharif Marakby
We continue to invest in hydrogen and we had not only the fuel cell car, but we had internal combustion hydrogen as well. But it seems to me a hydrogen fuel cell would be a great thing to power a power station to create the electricity to power our vehicles. I do think [battery] electrification makes a lot of sense for us. Hydrogen is tough to store, to transport, and yeah you can get it from renewables in a lab, but most hydrogen today is petrochemically derived, and if that is the case, why? Why would you do that? But a stationary fuel cell to power a power plant, sure. Then you start to have an interesting equation.—Bill Ford Jr.
Driving Green Technologies. Achieving substantive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector will require combined action in technology, policy and consumer behavior according to a number of studies, one of the more recent being the just-released Pew study. (Earlier post.)
Accordingly, Ford has been upping its activity within the policy arena, as well as trying a broader consumer outreach via newer technologies such as social media. As one example of the latter, Ford hosted a “Driving Green Technologies” event at NAIAS at which it hosted a number of US and international bloggers and online journalists to explore different technology and policy aspects of sustainability. (GCC attended the Driving Green Technologies event as a guest of Ford. We’ll report on that and Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr.’s current thinking on sustainability, technology, consumers and policy in a subsequent post.)