DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is looking to add muscle to its next generation of hybrid vehicles.
Over the next few years, the automaker plans hybrid versions of its F-150 pickup, Bronco SUV and Explorer crossover, among other vehicles. It promises they'll be able to venture off road, tow boats and haul around multiple golf bags or suitcases.
To deliver on those capability claims, engineers developed a new transmission system, called "modular hybrid technology," that debuts this year on the 2020 Explorer. The system, featuring an electric motor, clutch and torque converter, not only improves fuel economy on Ford's larger vehicles, but provides more power.
"Hybrids are more than just fuel efficiency," Dave Filipe, Ford's vice president of powertrain engineering, told media at a presentation this week. "Whatever solutions we provide have to be no-compromise, especially as we get into the larger vehicles. We need to create something different to get the right answer for this customer segment."
The modular hybrid technology was designed to fit with rear-wheel-drive vehicles that contain Ford's 10-speed transmission. Officials say the new system uses roughly 90 percent common parts as the standard 10-speed, but inserts an electric motor that provides low-speed torque and an extra boost of power.
On the upcoming Explorer hybrid, for example, the electric motor will put out 44 hp. When coupled with the vehicle's 3.3-liter V-6 engine, it will generate 318 hp and 322 pound-feet of torque. It will also be able to tow up to 5,000 pounds and have a 500-mile range.
The fourth-generation lithium ion battery that powers the hybrids is roughly 33 percent smaller than the first generation that debuted on Ford's 2005 Escape hybrid, and is packaged underneath the Explorer's second-row seats to prevent it from taking up cargo space.
The modular hybrid technology also features a new exhaust gas heat recovery system that takes heat traveling down the exhaust pipe and recirculates it back to the engine and transmission system to help it warm up faster.
Smaller, front-wheel-drive vehicles, such as the 2020 Escape hybrid and plug-in hybrid, will feature an electronic continuously variable transmission that can achieve a top speed of 85 mph on battery power. It will come in four modes, including an "EV charge" mode that directs the powertrain to charge the battery pack while the vehicle is being driven so that electric only range can be used later.
The new hybrid systems come as Ford invests $11 billion in electrification through 2022. It is planning 40 electrified vehicles, including 16 battery-electrics.
While the automaker plans full EVs, such as a Mustang-inspired crossover and a future electric F-150, Filipe said it was important to offer multiple forms of electrification to help drive down costs.
"It's a much more affordable alternative to all-electric vehicles," Filipe said. "Our competitors don't have a story in this space. We're going to be aggressively chasing hybrids and making it work for customers."