As director of Ford Motor Co.'s sustainable energies and hybrid programs, Mary Ann Wright, 43, is responsible for boosting production of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles from about 20,000 this year to 250,000 by 2010. Wright's priorities are overseeing the team of engineers developing the company's second-generation hybrid powertrain as well as lining up suppliers for high-volume production. She spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
As you are doing the engineering for the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, are you considering wringing out efficiencies from other areas of the vehicles, such as with the air conditioning compressor and wheel bearings?
We are looking at every piece of the system. This is going to be a whole new generation of hybrid technology, and we are going to do it in three years' development time. We have a whole new battery architecture, a new engine, a new transmission and new high-voltage control system. This vehicle is going to be totally different. We are looking for orders of magnitude in fuel economy improvements.
How are you going to do this in just three years when you are stretched so thin on engineers?
I need more engineers, lots of them. But every engineer who was on the Escape Hybrid is on this program. We aren't losing any of them. We aren't losing any of the learning.
Getting the Escape out, I was holding my breath. That was a tough launch. This one from the get-go doesn't scare me. I have an integrated team. The big issue is not going to 250,000 units, but proliferating the technology across 50 percent of our nameplates.
Where are you going to find engineers with experience in gasoline-electric powertrains? Will you try to recruit from Honda and Toyota?
We are looking everywhere. We are recruiting at a lot of universities. We are advertising in some of the more techie publications. My engineers are using their networks. We are going to look within our industry. A lot of universities are offering hybrid technologies as part of their curriculums.
Are you worried that interest in hybrids will wane because some drivers are not achieving the estimated fuel economy printed on the window sticker?
People are concerned about the fuel economy they are getting in their vehicles, whether it is a hybrid or not. With a hybrid, the sensitivity goes up.
When Ford decided to go with a hybrid, gasoline was around $1.99 a gallon. Recently it passed $3, so it looks like a smart decision.
Absolutely, but not only for the price of fuel. Whether it is 20 years from now or 40, we've got to find other solutions and technology. If you don't start here with hybrids, you aren't getting fuel cells.
In many ways Ford's financial situation is worse than it was in 2001. How much pressure is on you to make hybrids profitable?
There's been pressure since we launched the Escape Hybrid. But Bill Ford and the senior management team made it easier by committing to being ready to deliver those kinds of volumes. Buyers are interested. We are going to get the economies of scale. I am going to get the engineers I need.
At what volume do hybrids become profitable?
All the key components are undergoing a massive redesign and restructuring so that we can get profitable. I don't know what that breakpoint is.
Will Ford be a competitor with hybrid trucks?
I am not making any announcements today, but it doesn't take a brainiac to figure this out. We are going to have 50 percent of our nameplates available with a hybrid powertrain. It is not a stretch to think it is going to be across SUVs, cars and trucks.