Gurminder Bedi, vice president of Ford North America Truck and truck development worldwide, is overseeing one of the most complex projects the automaker has attempted, the Escape HEV.
The gasoline-electric sport-utility is due out in the 2003 calendar year. Bedi, who began his career at Ford in 1971, has held a variety of senior management positions. He spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett about the Escape HEV and Ford's efforts to reduce emissions and raise fuel economy.
Will the driver have to make any compromises in the Escape HEV?
No. The driver won't have to give up anything. It'll have the power and the fuel economy. My target is 40 mpg. We are not there just yet, but that's the goal. Pulling power and accelerating will be better. The driver will notice the stop and start operation. When you stop at a red light, the engine will actually shut off. It will not be idling.
Are there any packaging compromises? Will the Escape lose any cargo room?
No, not at all. We are changing the rear end and floor. In fact, we are going to improve the cargo space. There is no compromise. And this was very important for us. It's not a gimmick or something we are doing to get headlines. This is a true sport-utility where the customer doesn't have to give up anything.
Why not a hybrid car first?
We really wanted to do a mainstream vehicle that would have an impact in the marketplace. What we didn't want to do is a vehicle just for show where all you sell is 3,000 or 4,000. For example, we did an electric Ranger and we sold a few hundred. We were first on the market with a nice environmentally friendly vehicle. But it doesn't do much for the environment if nobody buys it. So, it was important to really build things that have a wide appeal to the mass market.
When we did a low emissions vehicle powertrain (in the F-150 and Explorer) we did 1 million pickups and sport-utilities. That's a lot. We cleaned up more in the environment with one low emissions vehicle powertrain than probably all the other alternative fueled vehicles put together. If the hybrid Escape takes off then we can expand it, perhaps to the Explorer.
Will the Escape HEV be profitable for Ford?
Oh yes. There are three things we have to do: satisfy the customers, satisfy society and satisfy the shareholders.
Have you had a chance to drive the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, and if so, what were your impressions?
Oh sure, I've driven the competitors' hybrids and they are very impressive.
Since Honda and Toyota were first on the market with their hybrid vehicles, they have established the benchmark. How would you say the Escape HEV will perform in comparison?
Since we have the benefit of being the second generation, there are things that they have done that we will do differently, just like I expect their future hybrids will be better than what they have now.
What did Ford learn from the electric Ranger?
Technically, there wasn't much learning transfer from the electric Ranger to the Escape HEV. But what the electric Ranger experience did teach us is when we just do something either because regulators have asked us to do it or just to say we are there, there is really not much value to that.
You sell a few. We sold less than a 1,000 (electric Rangers) in three or four years. As we thought about it, when we go into things that are environmentally positive and will have a positive affect on society, they need to be something then that we can sell in large volume.
Look into your crystal ball and predict where hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles will lead us.
I don't think fuel cell vehicles are coming in the next few years. They are probably more than 10 years away in terms of big volume.
If the auto industry comes up with a drivetrain that doesn't harm the environment, you'd have to make a massive investment to retool your factories. As a society we'd have to change our fuel infrastructure. Do we really want to do that?
Oh, it would be our greatest pleasure to be able to do that. One of the great myths back in the '70s during the fuel crisis is that Detroit had a tablet that you could drop in your gas tank and be able to get 100 mpg, or that we had a carburetor that would get 100 mpg.