DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is devoting one of its largest research laboratories to the development of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles as part of a focus on fuel-efficiency that has been a centerpiece of its revival since late 2006.
This year, the automaker will offer nine vehicles that can get more than 40 miles per gallon. This includes its first all-electric passenger car, the 2012 Focus Electric, and the 2013 Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid sedan.
The red-brick 285,000 square-foot advanced engineering center in Dearborn, Mich., will be the center of Ford's efforts to develop fuel-efficiency technology.
Ten years ago, Ford surveys showed that consumers were rejecting the brand because of its poor fuel economy, said Raj Nair, who will become head of Ford global product development on April 1.
"Now people are coming to us because we do have superior fuel economy to the majority of our competitors, and that's going to be the heart of our strategy going forward," said Nair, who is now the global head of engineering.
U.S. regulators and automakers have said fuel-efficiency and emissions standards will grow stricter over the next decade. That coupled with higher fuel prices have prompted automakers to experiment with hybrid and electric vehicle technology.
Ford, which ranks behind General Motors, is centralizing development of these vehicles at a time of increasing doubts about the affordability and effectiveness of electric cars. At the same time, engineering tweaks to the traditional internal combustion engine have helped automakers wring out more miles per gallon.
The Focus electric car gets the equivalent of 105 miles per gallon, while Ford projects that the Energi can get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon in electric mode.