WASHINGTON - Ford Motor Co. is ready to deliver its first hybrid-powered car - not to consumers, but to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The agency subsidized research and development with about $54 million of taxpayer money. The government share was to be half the project cost; Ford officials declined to discuss expenditures.
The lightweight, mid-sized car, powered by a 1.2-liter diesel Ford engine and an electric motor, is expected to get at least 60 mpg.
'The vehicle is complete. We're just going through the confirmation tests and making sure that we're happy with it before we release it,' said John Wallace, Ford's director of environmental vehicles.
Company officials say delivery will occur this month.
The car, the latest in a series of Ford's P2000 research vehicles, is the product of a contract between Ford and the federal government, approved before the creation in 1993 of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
Bob Kost, vehicle systems team leader at the Energy Department, said the goal of the earlier program was to use off-the-shelf technology to create a 50-mpg hybrid-powered vehicle. It was part of the government's effort to reduce reliance on imported oil.
General Motors and the former Chrysler Corp. also had contracts under the earlier hybrid program. GM completed its work last year and delivered some components to the department. DaimlerChrysler is continuing its project, Kost said.
The more ambitious partnership - an undertaking of the federal government, the former Big 3, suppliers and research institutions - has as its goal the development of 80-mpg family sedan prototypes by 2004.
People in government and industry came to view the hybrid research as a step toward partnership goals, and federal funding for Ford's hybrid has been consolidated into the appropriations for the partnership in annual government budgets.
CONCEPTS COMING IN 2000
The three automakers are scheduled in early 2000 to display concept cars embodying technologies developed by the partnership.
Bob Culver, a partnership manager for Ford, hinted that the soon-to-be-unveiled hybrid will strongly resemble Ford's partnership concept.
He also said of the car, 'It does a tremendous job. I'm quite excited about it.' He said performance was not sacrificed for fuel economy.
U.S.-based automakers apparently are still years away from bringing a hybrid-powered vehicle to market. General Motors has said it will have one ready by 2001. Ford has indicated 2003 is its target.