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Thursday, August 25, 2005

 

Oil Prices Fuel the Alt Fuel/Electric Dream

Back in my 'salad' days not only did I have longer hair, but I also worked on Ford's electric and hybrid electric vehicle programs. I recall several papers we published that showed that if gasoline prices were comparable to Europe (at the time, between $4 and $5/gallon) that we could create a viable mass market EV/Hybrid market.

Watching gasoline prices rise to $3/gallon, and the waiting lines for Toyota hybrids lends credence to our "models" back then. In fact, we attempted to justify the serial and parallel hybrids with exactly that formula, as a world car. Needless to say, adherence to the CA ZEV mandate (must sell 2% of volume in CA as ZEV - zero emission vehicle) meant we couldn't focus on hybrids, although that was the better short term solution.

Interestingly, for those wondering, why are the domestics once again behind on hybrid technology? In 1992-96...we were ahead...we had several hybrids driving around CA and we'd been working with the DOE (Dept. of Energy) on a $122 million project to build viable hybrids. We used some of the DOE funds to conduct research that showed consumers would be willing to buy hybrids at a premium as long as it was a good commuter vehicle (2+2 seating, 0-60 acceleration of 10 seconds and no need to "plug in" to refuel, and 40-60 mpg).

Shortly after we finished that project, I distinctly remember wanting to leave EVs (and did leave to go build websites) because I knew EVs wouldn't work...hybrids, however...that was a different story. We had a nice vehicle on the drawing board at the time but the funding just wasn't there for a world car based on Hybrid propulsion (EV only for CA, NY and MA). Maybe $400-$600 million in investment, as I recall? It's been 10 years...

We were trying hard to live up to the mandate...instead of figuring out what the consumer might be willing to buy. But I must admit, it must be frustrating for people like John Wallace (the director of Alt Fuels) and Brad Bates (Ford Research Lab propulsion technologies) to see Toyota and Honda introduce their hybrids first and for Ford to have to license some aspects of the technology from Toyota, according to MixedPower.com.

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