He says Ford, GM and Chrysler engineers also learned to set aside their rivalries and work together. That's paying dividends now as Ford and GM develop a six-speed transmission and as GM and DaimlerChrysler engineer a rear-drive hybrid transmission with BMW AG.
Mull, who runs Ford's vehicle evaluation and test programs, is retiring Oct. 1 after 33 years with the company.
He says some PNGV engineers went on to join Ford's hybrid-vehicle team. Although the Escape Hybrid was more than a year late coming to market, it still arrived ahead of GM and Chrysler hybrids. It still is the only full hybrid built in North America. GM's first full hybrid is still more than a year away.
Although $3-a-gallon gasoline is painful for consumers, Mulls says it will force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles -- even if the government continues to drag its feet on raising fuel-economy standards. He says the days of cheap fuel are over.
Says Mull: "I am of the school of thought that we will see some softening (of gasoline prices), but they are still going to be high. With India and China developing as they are, even if gasoline prices drop 25 percent, that's still a huge increase. For any company's planning, you have to assume prices are going to be high."
In his long career with Ford, Mull has been involved in many of the automaker's efforts to improve efficiency. In the early 1970s he helped Ford develop a way to calculate fuel economy that meshed with the Environmental Protection Agency's policies. He also helped ensure that Ford met corporate average fuel economy standards.
Mull's star rose quickly. He was assigned to three vehicle programs that were big sellers for Ford in the 1980s and 1990s. They were the Fox platform, which spawned the Ford Fairmont, Mercury Zephyr and Mustang; the Panther program, which underpinned the Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car; and the Erica, which became the Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx. Then came several assignments in Asia.
But Mull says the highlight of his Ford career is the three years he spent in the mid-1990s as Ford's director of the PNGV program.
By the time the program ended, Ford had developed a swoopy gasoline-electric hybrid concept car called the Synergy 2010. The mid-sized sedan weighed just 2,200 pounds -- 1,100 pounds less than a Taurus. The car's hybrid powertrain was a 1.0-liter gasoline engine. It drove a generator that made electricity for motors installed in the hubs of the wheels.
Mull says a production car based on the concept would have cost too much to produce, and it would have been hard to sell because the price of fuel in the late 1990s was less than a bottle of water.
"Ford was doing hybrids way back in the early 1990s," Mull says. "The facts are we knew how to do hybrids as well as anybody. Toyota did one for the marketplace first. But they don't make money, and they can afford it better than other companies could."
Mull sees a future mix of fuel-saving vehicles in the United States powered not only by hybrid powertrains but also by diesel engines.
"We used to argue within the PNGV that levels of efficiency are just good business no matter what happens to fuel prices," he says. "It was a very good program for the government to start and spawn.
"It did result in the acceleration of a lot of the things we see today. We also used to argue that if fuel prices went up, this stuff would come into the marketplace. And that's what's happening today."
You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected]