US:Hurricane Watch, Ford hopes high-performance V-8 blows away rivals
Ford hopes high-performance V-8 blows away rivals
Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News
The Hurricane is back.
A year after Ford Motor Co. killed its planned Hemi-fighting V-8 to the dismay of horsepower junkies, Ford Americas group chief Mark Fields has put the high-performance engine back in the company’s product pipeline, according to sources familiar with the project.
Fields revived the engine three months ago as part of a new restructuring plan for the automaker. The decision offers a telling insight into how serious Fields is about shaking things up at Ford, underscoring his repeated assertions that nothing is off the table when it comes to reshaping the automaker’s troubled North American auto operations, which lost $1.6 billion last year.
Ford nixed the Hurricane project because of concerns about development costs and rising gasoline prices. Now, Fields has decided that maintaining Ford’s leadership in the pickup truck market against mounting challenges from rivals General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group trumps those concerns.
Many analysts were dismayed by Ford’s decision to halt development of the Hurricane, which will likely get a new name before hitting the market.
“It was a dumb program to kill,” said Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific in Southfield. Hall said Ford got spooked by soaring fuel prices last spring, which seemed to spell bad news for thirsty high-horsepower engines. However, he said long-term analysis shows that, while demand for big engines may ebb and flow as a result of gasoline prices or other factors, it remains steady over time.
Erich Merkle, a brand analyst with IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, is not surprised Ford decided to revive the Hurricane.
“They’ve got to do something from a powertrain perspective if they’re going to hold on to the F-series’ lead,” he said, noting that both GM and Chrysler have more powerful engines on the market, particularly in their trucks and sport utilities.
“Ford has nothing,” Merkle said. “Without those bigger options, they are going to have a hard time competing.”
Ford does have some big engines, but none that can compete with the 425-horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi or the 403-horsepower Vortec that will equip the 2007 Cadillac Escalade SUV. With its 300-horsepower Triton, Ford’s2007 Lincoln Navigator will have a hard time keeping up with the Escalade.
When it comes to engines, few have captured the public’s imagination like Chrysler’s Hemi.
The Hemi’s roots go back to the 1950s, but the vaunted powerhouse disappeared from production cars in 1974, a victim of new government fuel economy requirements. Chrysler reintroduced a new Hemiin the 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickup.
Ford wants theHurricane to more than a match these engines and help ensure the automaker stays on top of the hotly-contested truck segment. As Chrysler has shown with Hemi, however, automakers also can command a price premium for high-performance powertrains. That means the Hurricane could help Ford’s bottom line.
Merkle said Ford’s Cleveland casting plant has received orders for a new 6.2-liter engine block, with work to begin next year.
“We believe that would be the Hurricane,” he said.
However, the Hurricane is not likely to make landfall before 2008. It will probably debut in Ford’s F-series pickups. A team has visited Ford’s Dearborn Truck factory, where F-150s are made, to assess what changes will be needed to accommodate the new engine on the line there.
But sources say the Hurricane also will be used in other platforms.
While Ford’s engine may not incorporate the sort of cylinder deactivation system found in the Hemi and Vortec, sources say it will offer similar fuel economy.
Other approaches that could be used to realize these gains include using the sort of multi-valve systems found on some German engines.
Whatever method Ford employs, the emphasis will remain on horsepower.
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.....