Ford uses high-tech means to pursue 25% fuel gain in sport-utility fleet
By RICHARD TRUETT
DETROIT -- When drivers of some 2004 Ford Explorers accelerate, they will have no mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine.
Instead, the pedal will connect to a computer, which will control the engine. Ford said the computer controls will save fuel and cut emissions.
This device is no magic wand to fulfill the company's pledge to boost the fuel economy of its sport-utility fleet by 25 percent. But it - and other advances that Ford Motor Co. showed last week at an event for journalists and analysts - will help, Ford engineers said.
The automaker did not spell out how it will achieve its goal of 23 mpg in its sport-utility fleet by 2005, but it showed various advances along with their expected fuel-economy gains.
Among the advances:
Electronic throttle control
Scheduled for some 2004 Explorers, the device eliminates the mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine. It connects the throttle to a computer that governs everything from the fuel and air mixture to when the transmission shifts gears.
Graham Hoare, Ford's director of powertrain research and development, said electronic throttle control will deliver a fuel economy gain of about 5 percent. Because the fuel and air mixture will be controlled more precisely, he said, the engine will run leaner, which will reduce tailpipe emissions.
Hoare would not say how much Ford is spending to equip the Explorer with the device.
Three-valve cylinder heads
The 5.4-liter V-8 engine in the 2004 Ford F-series trucks due late next year will have cylinder heads with two intake valves and one exhaust valve. Most vehicles have two valves or four. The new valve design is expected to deliver a fuel economy gain of about 5 percent over the current two-valve engine, said Dave Szczupak, Ford's global powertrain chief.
The three-valve heads place the spark plugs directly over the pistons, enabling a higher compression ratio and a more efficient burn using regular octane gasoline.
Szczupak said the 5.4-liter engine will have more torque and horsepower than competing truck engines from General Motors and the Chrysler group.
Redesigned Powerstroke diesel
Due in the 2003 model year, the 6.0-liter Powerstroke diesel built by International Truck and Engine Corp. has a high-pressure fuel system, runs cleaner and has more power than the larger, outgoing 7.3-liter unit, also from International. Szczupak said the new engine and its new five-speed automatic transmission deliver a 10 percent gain in fuel economy.
The turbocharged diesel V-8 will be optional in Ford F-250 and F-350 pickups and the Excursion.
Hydraulic launch assist
In 2004, Ford will build and test a demonstration fleet of full-sized vans with the hybrid powertrain. Hydraulic launch assist captures energy normally wasted during braking and uses it to pressurize hydraulic fluid tanks. The fluid, which powers a hydraulic motor connected to the driveshaft, boosts acceleration from a stop.
Hoare said the system delivers fuel economy gains of about 35 percent on some heavy-duty vehicles.
Continuously variable transmissions
In the 2004 model year, Ford plans to use a continuously variable transmission in the front-wheel-drive Escape sport-utility with four- and six-cylinder engines, boosting fuel economy by as much as 10 percent over current manual and automatic transmissions.
Ford also plans to use a robust version of the CVT in the CrossTrainer, a crossover vehicle due in the 2005 model year.
The CrossTrainer also will be available with a six-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed transmission is expected to deliver about 7 percent better fuel economy than a five-speed automatic.
Some of the technology on display can be used together for even greater fuel economy gains. But combining things such as electronic throttle control, a six-speed transmission and the three-valve cylinder head doesn't mean that all the fuel economy gains for each item can be added up for a giant leap forward in fuel economy, Szczupak said.
He said: "You can't always add all of them. You can only save pumping work once. But certainly electronic throttle control is a key part of how you optimize an engine matched to a CVT."
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My next Ford.....