TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- About 1 in 4 car buyers is willing to pay extra for a fuel-efficient powertrain if the investment can be recouped in four years or less, a senior Ford executive said.
That discovery, backed by consumer research, has helped Ford develop a useful blueprint for rolling out electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and other fuel-efficient powertrains, said Joe Bakaj, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of powertrain engineering.
Other important factors are adequate vehicle range and ease of refueling.
If a vehicle has all three attributes, it is a candidate for volume sales, Bakaj said here today at the Center for Automotive Research's 2012 Management Briefing Seminars.
The formula proved its value when Ford rolled out its EcoBoost family of gasoline engines. EcoBoost engines have direct fuel injection, turbochargers and small displacements.
Ford generally charges $800 to $1,200 extra for EcoBoost engines, and consumers are snapping them up, Bakaj said. For example, 43 percent of F-series pickup buyers opt for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, even though it costs more than a V-8.
Ford is pricing the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid at $29,995 (after incentives and destination charge). It will not meet the four-year payback test, Bakaj acknowledged, but that's not a big problem for Ford because the automaker is not spending large sums to tool up for production.
Ford will produce the C-Max Energi on the same assembly line as conventionally powered versions of the vehicle. And that gives Ford the flexibility to introduce other fuel-efficient powertrains to meet demand.
The automaker is designing all of its mainstream vehicles -- which include world cars such as the Focus and Fusion -- so that a hybrid powertrain can be offered.