Re: U.S.A.:Ford sets July '04 date for hybrid SUV production
Ford Escape hybrid delayed due to electronic component snafus
By RICHARD TRUETT AND AMY WILSON | Automotive News
DETROIT -- The Ford Escape hybrid is about one year behind schedule because Ford Motor Co. bought major electronic components from several suppliers and had trouble making them work together.
Phil Martens, group vice president of North American product creation, said Ford chose not to buy a complete off-the-shelf hybrid system from Toyota Motor Corp. or Honda Motor Co. It was critical for Ford engineers to write the software that controls the gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, Martens said, so the company would have the knowledge to develop vehicles.
That choice by Ford has given Toyota and Honda more time to sell their own hybrids without a Big 3 challenger. Both Toyota and Honda have exploited their head start with ad campaigns emphasizing their green credentials.
Mary Ann Wright, chief engineer for the Escape hybrid, said last week that production is scheduled to begin in July in Kansas City, Mo. The first units probably will be available in August as 2005 models. A hybrid-powertrain version of the Lexus RX 330 is scheduled to arrive at about the same time.
Ford officials deny that the Escape hybrid program is late. But when Ford announced in April 2000 its plan to build the vehicle, press materials said the vehicle would debut in 2003.
There have been signs that the Escape hybrid faced development challenges.
Last April the company backed off its pledge to boost fuel economy of its SUV fleet by 25 percent by 2005, and availability of the Escape hybrid had been a key to meeting that goal. This summer Ford canceled plans to put the vehicle on sale this fall for fleets, electing instead to develop the Escape hybrid through use in Ford fleets.
At a media briefing last week, Ford officials explained the Escape hybrid's difficult gestation.
"We did not want to avoid the process of developing the technology and learning in-house," Martens said. "If we had bought their system, putting it in our vehicle, there's no intellectual property gained."
Toyota and Honda say that they can bring successive generations of their hybrid powertrains to market faster because they develop the technology in-house. Both Toyota and Honda are on their second-generation hybrids in the United States.
Martens added: "If you look at fuel cells, you've got to do the hybrid in-house. We made a conscious decision that we'd only license the patents that are absolutely critical. The rest we'd do in-house to grow the capability."
But those decisions apparently slowed the Escape hybrid's introduction.
Each hybrid powertrain component from suppliers has its own computer module, which is controlled by the powertrain control module.
There was trouble getting all the suppliers to cooperate when Ford engineers were writing the powertrain control module's software, said Tom Watson, Ford's manager for hybrid-electric powertrains.
"We've had some suppliers go off and do something and not tell us," Watson said, "and then when we released the next level of software, something weird is going on. It took a little bit of discipline to get everyone on the same page. We have it now working like a well-oiled machine."
Ford requires all suppliers on the project to attend a daily meeting and inform other suppliers of any changes.
"If any one of the suppliers on the seven modules wants to make a change, they have to bring this potential change into a change-control meeting," Watson said. "We review it and decide if we are going to do it. All the other suppliers are aware that someone else is making a change."
Some of the delay also can be attributed to Ford choosing suppliers that have never built components for a hybrid vehicle. The Escape is the first hybrid vehicle on which Sanyo, maker of the battery pack, and Continental Teves, supplier of the regenerative braking system, will have content.
Watson said there also were early troubles with the battery cooling system, which uses the vehicle's air conditioner and two vents in the rear to maintain the battery pack at 50 to 75 degrees.
Wright, the chief engineer, and other engineers with more launch experience joined the hybrid program in April to help keep it on track. She acknowledged Ford has taken a lot of heat, some of it deserved, about the slow progress of its hybrid.
Thad Malesh, a specialist in advanced powertrains at the Automotive Technology Research Group in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says Ford is going extremely slow and being extra cautious because of the high standard set by Toyota and Honda.
"They're feeling the heat and can't afford to make any mistakes," Malesh said.
"Being first on the market with a hybrid SUV is great, but not at the expense of a lot of recalls."
Ford officials expect that the Escape hybrid will get 35 mpg to 40 mpg in city driving.
The current V-6 Escape, which Ford says is comparable to the performance of the coming hybrid, gets 19 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
No price for the Escape HEV has been set. Ford said it expects to sell up to 20,000 units annually.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....