As the new director of Ford Motor Co.'s Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, Nancy Gioia steps into one of the auto industry's most high-pressure jobs. Gioia, 45, a 23-year Ford veteran, took over for Mary Ann Wright, who resigned this month.
Gioia's responsibilities are to lead Ford's 300-member hybrid engineering team as it develops its own transmission.
At the same time she's lining up a North American supply chain for hybrid parts and increasing production of hybrids to 250,000 a year by 2010. She spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Is Ford interested in working with other automakers on hybrid powertrains? You already have a transmission deal with General Motors.
It would be unwise of us not to consider potential partnerships. In terms of any specific conversations going on at the time, I can't share.
We certainly are aware and have had discussions. But those are things that when we are ready to announce, you will hear about. I think anytime you are developing new technology, you have to always balance and weigh who are the partners, whether it is other automakers or scientists in other areas and what makes the most sense for customer satisfaction.
How far along is Ford in the development of the second-generation hybrid powertrain?
Gen II is coming along very well. We are very pleased with it. And we have things already going on with generation III. You are going to see in 2008 products that have the Gen II powertrain.
It seems odd that Ford already is developing a third generation of hybrid powertrain when the second generation is still years away from production.
There was a time in the 1980s when the electronic content on a vehicle went from $200 to $1,200 in an eight-year period.
Hybrids are much along that same kind of technology curve in the transaxle, the motors, the batteries and the control system. All of those things are riding a technology curve.
When we talk about generations, we are talking about taking advantage of consolidation and micronization - things getting smaller - which is good for hybrids because of better weight and smaller package.
Do you agree that Ford needs around 200 engineers on its hybrid team to meet Bill Ford's goal of spreading hybrid technology to 50 percent of Ford's North American nameplates in five years?
We have 300-plus talented researchers and engineers in place who know how to deliver.
That is great. Clearly, as we expand our volume, we are going to be taking engineers from our powertrain groups and (powertrain) control groups and bring them into the hybrid world. So they are already incredibly skilled.
The other part of it is battery technology, fuel cells and some of the other research areas where we probably don't have enough skill sets within Ford to do the expansion we want. We've laid out by quarter what we want to do, and we are actively following that plan.
What is the life cycle of the technology in a hybrid powertrain?
We are not going to be rolling on a very long technology cycle. It's going to be much shorter.
Once you get it out there and you have proof of concept that things work, you can miniaturize and take advantage of the things technology can bring.
We already have an idea of what Gen III will look like, and we even have ideas for what comes after that.
The job you are stepping into has been the public face of Ford's hybrid team. Is that role going to be the same for you?
I will be doing that. But at the same time, I feel we have such a strong team that maybe we have done a bit of a disservice in not letting the world see how much strength we really have in the number of technical experts, in the influence we are having in policy as well as the research agenda in the much broader context on a global scale.
Yeah, I'll certainly be out there, but you are going to be seeing much more of the team.
When the chairman of the company is behind what you are doing as strongly as Bill Ford is, do you have to justify the need for engineers and budgets the same as anyone else in the company?
We go through the same process as everyone else. I fight for every bit of the budget.
At the end of the day, we have to make products that delight customers and make money for our shareholders.
Because Toyota and Honda are so far ahead in hybrids and have set the quality bar so high, does it put more pressure on you to get it right than it would on any other program?
I don't agree with you about Toyota and Honda being so far ahead. We still are the only SUV out there that meets (California's) Partial Zero Emissions vehicle or PZEV requirements. And we were the first hybrid SUV out there.
We have more than 130 patents, and additional patents are pending. In terms of intellectual property and knowledge in hybrid technology and future generations of hybrid technology, we are not as far behind as you might like to portray. I actually think we are quite competitive.
As you take over the hybrid team, what are your priorities?
On my agenda one of the key things in the next year is to put in place here in North America the supply base we need.
We will build a very strong partner supply base here in North America so that we are capable of delivering 250,000 hybrids by 2010. We are going to continue the research to bring forward future generations of hybrids.