WASHINGTON - Ford Motor Co. promises that each new vehicle it develops will be at least 5 percent more fuel efficient than the car or truck it replaces.
Bob Mull, Ford's director of worldwide product strategy and cycle planning, said continuously variable transmissions, 42-volt electrical systems and lightweight materials are among the near-term technologies that will make the gains possible.
'If you look at where we put our money down, that will tell you what we're going to do,' Mull said. Ford, for example, is in a joint venture with a German company, ZF Friedrichshafen AG, to build a million continuously variable transmissions a year in Batavia, Ohio. The first one is to come off the line in late 2001.
A 5 percent gain means a 1- to 11/2-mpg improvement for most vehicles, but the figure is significant because it makes specific Ford President Jac Nasser's earlier vow to make fuel economy more of a competitive issue among automakers.
TH!NK IS COMING
The 5 percent target came out during a daylong conference on environmental issues the company held last Thursday, July 22, in Washington for the news media, members of Congress and administration officials.
Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. said such events are useful in helping to convince people that the company's focus on the environment is 'not a passing fad or marketing or PR campaign.'
Asked what happens to the commitment when the business cycle turns down, Ford said, 'We don't see this as a luxury. It is something we have to do. Even in our darkest hours, we kept our product plans intact. This is a path we are on, from which there is no turning back.'
Ford executives said the conference had been planned for months and was not scheduled to coincide with a possible Senate vote on lifting a 4-year-old freeze on federal fuel economy standards.
Nevertheless, Nasser took the opportunity to say, 'If you're trying to legislate what customers should drive, it just won't work.'
In other developments at the session:
Nasser said Ford's Norwegian-built electric city car called Th!nk will come to North America after its introduction in Scandinavia this year and the rest of Europe next year. He said it likely will be available only as a leased vehicle.
Nasser announced that Ford and a company called Utilimaster are selling the U.S. Postal Service 10,000 new Ford-powered, aluminum-bodied delivery trucks that can run either on ethanol or gasoline or any combination of the two.