These are busy days for Ford's hybrid chief, Nancy Gioia. Her team is making final calibrations on Ford's next two hybrids, the gasoline-electric versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans. Those cars are due out next summer. Gioia, Ford's director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs, also is leading Ford's efforts to upgrade from today's nickel-metal hydride batteries to lighter, more powerful lithium ion batteries. She spoke recently with Staff Reporters Richard Truett and Leslie J. Allen.
Q&A: Ford's hybrid czar: 'My goal is to get it right'
We are generally quite enthusiastic about lithium ion. It gives us advantages in weight and packaging. There are some improvements in fuel economy, but it is not quantum. We don't see anything inherent in the technology that appropriate design and process won't address in terms of performance, reliability, durability and safety.
There are about five top suppliers that are really serious contenders. They all have fundamental chemistry and materials, knowledge and understanding, and then an approach toward the manufacturing process and the battery management interface requirements. Most have produced very limited pilot production volumes. And they have tweaked the chemistry and mechanicals. I think we are quite optimistic on it. But they won't be here tomorrow.
Well, there are the obvious players. You have Toyota very tied to Panasonic EV. We have the mainstream lithium ion suppliers for appliances, utilities and consumer products, such as LG Chem, A123 Systems, Samsung and Sanyo. We have some emerging folks, such as Johnson Controls-Saft, and a handful of other suppliers.
Do they have a leg up because they are Ford alum? No. The vehicle integration is done by us. They are certainly one of the suppliers we are considering. But what we are looking for is — well, knowledge of the vehicle is not as critical as the battery chemistry, the depth of knowledge of the chemistry, the competency and the volume scale to buy electronics and put together the system or just provide cells so someone else can put the system together.
As soon as we believe they are ready. We understand lithium ion's characteristics. We understand how to do battery design and management systems. We have partners on system integration. We understand the vehicle architecture and how to design these in. But we won't launch it before its time.
We are focused on launching the right car with the right technology that we can put our name on and be proud of, and that our customers can love. I personally believe that if you set up an objective to beat another company, you are always reacting. I would rather have a clear vision of where we are going. We just can't be whipsawed by everything else that is going on.
Putting something out there that isn't right could destroy the image of the technology. We believe greater forms of electrification of transportation and fuel changes are going to be required increasingly through the next decade in order to maintain an acceptable performance for the planet, so we can't damage the technology. I'd love to be first, but my goal is to get it right.
Even as lithium ion batteries become available, you won't see the hybrids on the road suddenly all just switch in six months. Because it is a different cell, and the chemistry and voltage are different, those characteristics have to be designed with the vehicle. It's not possible to take out the nickel-metal pack and just drop in a lithium ion pack. You have to recalibrate the emissions, fuel economy, etc.
A huge amount of the fuel economy improvement came from smarter use of our data and a tweak of the battery chemistry that allowed it to run in a little wider temperature range. And it was also just more eking out every opportunity of that battery management system's interface with the vehicle.
I don't mean this disrespectfully, but I don't think our customers should know the battery chemistry and the cells. They shouldn't be worrying about that. If they are, we have done something drastically wrong. What I am hearing from customers is "How does that battery work in the total environmental equation?" We see an awareness of the end-of-life recyclability issues in a growing number if consumers.
We believe climate change is real. We believe it is influenced by man. And we are working very hard at Ford to come up with product and fuel combinations that make our products compatible and sustainable for the future so our customers don't feel as if they have to make a trade-off.
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