One of the world's leading automotive powertrain engineers will help Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. usher in an era of new engine technology at Ford Motor Co.
Gerhard Schmidt, 54, director of powertrain development during the past decade at BMW AG, will join Ford as vice president of research in spring, Ford Motor said last week.
Bill Ford foresees decreasing reliance on the internal combustion engine. The great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford predicts that gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles could account for 20 percent of new-vehicle sales by the end of the decade. Longer term, Bill Ford expects fuel cells to replace the internal combustion engine.
Bill Powers, Ford's outgoing vice president of research, sees the problem this way: 'During the next decade, the key research and development question in the auto industry is which powertrains will win to satisfy local emissions, global warming and fuel economy, as well as customer acceptance.'
Ford Motor is tapping Schmidt to oversee the development of the first generation of new powertrain technology in mass-market vehicles.
Fuel cell vehicles can run on hydrogen and produce only water as a byproduct. Ford plans to test a Ford Focus-based fuel cell vehicle this year and produce up to 200 units by 2004.
During 21 years at BMW, Schmidt worked in a number of engine r&d jobs. He developed BMW's first diesel engine and led the group designing the company's gasoline engines.
Schmidt headed BMW's gasoline-engine activities from 1985 through 1990. Since 1990, he has been director of powertrain development. Since 1998, he has been in charge of all engines and transmissions for the BMW Group.
At Ford, Schmidt will report to Richard Parry-Jones, group vice president of global product development and quality.
Jac Nasser, Ford CEO, has said the company's investment in cleaner vehicles will not pay off for at least 10 years. But Ford anticipates the day when consumers will clamor for environmentally benign products.
'You can't win in every technology,' Nasser said in October. 'So we have placed our bets on electric, on fuel cells, on hybrid vehicles.'