Ford’s goal of electrifying a portion of its fleet appears to be running on all cylinders. The company is creating battery electric versions of both of its recent award winners –the 2009 Car (Focus) and Truck (Transit Connect Van) of the Year. Because energy storage will make or break the arrival of electric vehicles, Ford has joined GM in bringing the battery pack assembly and management under its tent.
Ford is investing nearly $1 billion in manufacturing facilities in Michigan that will include producing hybrid, battery-electric, and plug-in vehicles as well as the lithium ion battery packs. Ford manager of global electrified fleets Greg Frenette explained that “there’s a strong tie-in marrying battery control… to the rest of propulsion, and we’re in the best position to manage that.”
He said that in addition to wanting to develop the software that controls battery performance and thermal management, the company also felt that managing pack assembly was also key to vehicle performance. “Packaging is a significant part of installed cost. Doing it ourselves will enable the quality of execution to be more consistent across battery packs.”
Ford, like GM, wants to control much of the intellectual property around its battery and propulsion systems. The company is using batteries from Johnson Controls-Saft for its current fleet of test plug-in hybrid Escapes, for the electric Transit Connect, and for a plug-in hybrid due out in 2012. But for the 2011 Focus BEV, Ford turned to another unnamed battery vendor. Frenette said the company will continue to look for more battery partners.
Spreading around the battery contracts is a smart strategy as it will force battery suppliers to compete aggressively on price, and safeguards against any supplier having production problems. The same goes for Ford considering multiple battery chemistries, which are evolving so quickly that any commitment to a single chemistry is likely to be premature. “Battery chemistries and development are fluid and dynamic, and [multi-sourcing] gives us the capability to go with cutting edge,” Frenette said.
Ford has not announced any target volumes for battery production when the facility goes online in 2012, but manufacturing the packs internally will enable the company to eliminate some of the margin that normally goes to battery manufacturers. Pike Research expects the installed cost of batteries to drop by about 10 percent during 2010 as manufacturing across the industry ramps up.
Ford is starting to live up to being the green company that Bill Ford (along with Kermit the Frog) promised several years ago. As another example, for the new “global platform Focus,” Ford is coming out with a new smaller turbocharged EcoBoost engine that is expected to improve fuel efficiency by 20 percent when compared to large engines with similar horsepower. Ford has shifted its turbocharger partner as well, having used Honeywell in the past, but now incorporating a Borg-Warner product.