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US:After tackling T-bird, Gioia thrust into hybrid role

After tackling T-bird, Gioia thrust into hybrid role

Executive excited to fulfill automaker's pledge to transform itself into a greener company by 2010.

By Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Nancy Gioia
Age: 45
Title: Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs
: Maintain current and future programs for hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. Must deliver Ford's promise to annually produce 250,000 hybrid vehicles by 2010.
Began career at Ford Motor Co. in 1982. Most recently worked as director of Current Model Vehicle Quality for North America where she was responsible for model quality performance. Chief program engineer for the 2002 Thunderbird. Held numerous executive and engineering positions during her 23 years at Ford.
Education: BS Electrical Engineering, University of Michigan; MS Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Stanford University
Hobby: Loves to ride horses.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nancy Gioia doesn't just want to make hybrid-powered vehicles. She wants to help make them this generation's Model T.

Gioia, 45 was thrust into the role as Ford Motor Co.'s hybrid chief Nov. 1 after the sudden resignation of Mary Ann Wright last month.

Now the woman that Ford trusted to oversee the engineering of the latest Thunderbird and Mustang faces what may be her biggest challenge -- fulfilling Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr.'s pledge to transform Ford into a greener company.

Bill Ford promised that by 2010, the automaker would produce 250,000 gas-electric hybrid vehicles a year and offer hybrid versions of half of its models.

"It's inspiring," Gioia said. "For me, it's absolutely energizing and inspiring -- and it's fun."

On Wednesday, Gioia watched one of the first Mercury Mariner Hybrids roll along the line at the company's Kansas City assembly plant.

"Hybrids are no longer a side project," she said. "I say, make it prime time."

Ford is taking another step with the full-scale production of the Mariner Hybrid began in Kansas City.

Based on the same platform as the Ford Escape Hybrid -- the first domestically produced hybrid and the world's first hybrid SUV.

The Mariner Hybrid will be the company's second hybrid. Ford plans to build 4,000 Mariner Hybrids annually, on top of the 20,000 Escape Hybrids it builds.

While Gioia is pleased with Ford's progress, she would like to see the company do more to promote hybrids, and perhaps, make the current vehicles stand out.

"I'd like it to visually look a little different so that you know you're looking at a hybrid," she said.

The hybrids are built on the same assembly line as their gas-powered brothers. Workers install the engines, batteries and other parts to make each type of vehicle run. The insides are significantly different. But once they roll off the line, only a small badge differentiates the Escape from the Escape Hybrid.

Gioia, most recently director of vehicle quality for North America, said she's ready for the challenges.

"We have the technical capability, but there's a lot of work to do," Gioia said. "The supply base is the other challenge."

Gioia says her core team is already in place. Though assembled by her predecessor, Gioia has worked closely with many of them during her 20-plus years at Ford.

Gioia is known within Ford as outspoken, driven and obsessed with getting the details right. "She is more than up for the challenge of delivering on our hybrid commitment," said Barb Samardzich, Ford's vice president of powertrain operations, who has worked closely with Gioia for years. "She's a very direct person. She questions the status quo. She's very data driven."

While hybrids are the most visible part of Ford's advanced powertrain strategy today, they are only one part of what Gioia sees the company's future. Ford is also developing new powertrains that use hydrogen -- either to power fuel cells or as fuel for a new type of internal combustion engine.

"It's a viable future technology," she said.

"The big question is how to get the hydrogen (to drivers)."

The company is also working on clean diesel engines and engines that use alternative fuels like ethanol.

"I don't believe there's a simple solution," Gioia said. "All our eggs won't be in one basket."

For inspiration, Gioia turns to her Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry, she said, was the one who told her what a T-bird should be when selected as the chief program engineer for the 2002 Thunderbird. He is helping her sort this one out, too.

"Uncle Harry told me the hybrids should be our (generation's) Model T," Gioia explained.

"He said the Model T became part of your life. They were more than just cars. You drilled wells with them. You drove them across your fields. Hybrids need to become part of people's lives today.

"I tend to have a very clear vision of what we want to do," Gioia said. "I'm able to communicate that vision and implement it."

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.....
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