An Expedition that doesn't guzzle?
Diesel, hybrid versions of Ford's big SUV in works
By RICHARD TRUETT | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS
Ford is planning a more fuel-efficient version of the Expedition SUV.
Photo by Global Auto Index
AT A GLANCE:
Base sticker price: $33,000
Estimated mpg: 14 city/19 highway
2006 U.S. sales: 34,381 through May
2005 U.S. sales: 48,999 for comparable 5 months
Inventory: 23,700, or an 82-day supply
Source: Kelley Blue Book, Automotive News Data Center
To combat high fuel prices that are bedeviling sales of big, profitable SUVs, Ford Motor Co. plans to offer a more fuel-efficient version of the Expedition. The vehicle could be powered by either a new European V-8 diesel engine or a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.
"We have hybrids and diesels under development," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of product development for the Americas.
Kuzak declined to give a time frame for the effort or confirm plans for a new, fuel-efficient Expedition. But a Ford source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the company would have a higher-mileage, full-sized SUV that would compete with hybrid versions of big SUVs planned by General Motors.
Such a vehicle could be ready for production around 2010.
Ford is under pressure to find ways to sell more Expeditions. U.S. sales of the SUV fell 29.8 percent through May compared with the same period in 2005. Dealers had 23,700 Expeditions in stock as of June 1, an 82-day supply.
A diesel or hybrid version of the Expedition would enable Ford to compete with the hybrid versions of General Motors' Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, coming in the fall of 2007, and the Chrysler group's Dodge Durango, scheduled for 2008.
GM's hybrid SUVs are expected to deliver a 25 percent gain in fuel economy over today's models, pushing fuel economy of the 5,500-pound SUVs into the mid-20s mpg.
GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW are working together on a hybrid transmission, called the Two-Mode for rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The Two-Mode is a conventional four-speed automatic transmission with two electric motors used to boost fuel economy in the city and on the highway.
The Two-Mode starts production in about 15 months. GM plans to introduce it on the Tahoe, Yukon and Cadillac Escalade SUVs.
Ford is trying to gauge consumer interest in the hybrid and diesel powertrains. A link on the Expedition section of the Ford Web site asks consumers which future options they would want to buy. On the list are a 4.5-liter V-8 diesel engine and a 4.6-liter V-8 gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, both priced at $2,500.
The diesel appears to be a bigger version of the new 3.6-liter engine offered in Land Rovers sold in Europe. The diesel engine would be relatively quick and inexpensive for Ford to install compared to the hybrid.
Ford has focused its hybrid activities on front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, such as the Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute. The automaker does not currently have a rear-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain transmission program for its F-series trucks and truck-based SUVs.
Auto analyst Jim Hall of AutoPacific in suburban Detroit says that if Ford engineers started today designing a rear-wheel-drive hybrid transmission similar to the GM-DaimlerChrysler-BMW gearbox, it would take a minimum of 3½ to 4 years before it could be ready for production.
But Ford could buy the Two-Mode from GM. The gearbox was designed to be easily adapted to other makes of vehicles. And GM, which will build the transmission in its Baltimore plant, has been trying aggressively to sell it to other automakers.
GM and Ford have talked about Ford's using the Two-Mode. The two automakers already have a joint transmission project beginning production this summer -- a six-speed automatic for front-wheel-drive cars.
For the Two-Mode to fit in the Expedition, Ford engineers would need to redesign two simple parts: the faceplate that mounts the engine to the transmission and the rear tail shaft or flange, where the driveshaft attaches.
Ford's hybrid team would have to write the software that controls the gasoline-electric powertrain. The company is an industry leader in this area.
Kuzak said Ford is looking at all options. "Right now we are looking at a variety of alternatives in terms of a (transmission) for our hybrids, that's in-house and working with external suppliers."
Kuzak would not say when either powertrain would be ready for production in the Expedition. But he acknowledged Ford needs such a vehicle.
"Right now as we look at what is required for competitiveness in fuel economy, for customers' unmet needs for fuel economy and for environmental considerations, we need to look at a variety of technologies -- hybrids, diesel engines, better gasoline engines, better electrical systems to minimize parasitic losses.
"All of those technologies need to be pursued, developed and understood for our cars and trucks."