Diesel Doesn’t Make Sense Yet, Bill Ford Says

Ford’s remarks run counter to those of his fellow panelists, who sit squarely in the camp of diesel advocates.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

June 16, 2009

4 Min Read
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DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford says the auto maker has diesel engines it “easily” could bring to the U.S. from Europe, but that won’t happen until consumers embrace the technology more warmly and a more robust infrastructure develops.

“Ford Motor Co. is the second-largest (diesel-engine) producer in Europe,” he says during a panel discussion on clean transportation at the National Summit here. “So it’s not like it’s not part of the Ford family.

“There just isn’t yet the diesel infrastructure (in the U.S.) for us to invest heavily,” Bill Ford says. “Should that develop, we’re all set. It would be easy for us to bring diesel technology here.”

As it stands, he adds, the auto maker has chosen to pull the “best pieces” of its diesel technology in Europe and put them in a gasoline-fueled engine for the U.S. called EcoBoost.

EcoBoost combines direct-injection with turbocharging to give Ford’s 3.5L gasoline engine 20% better fuel economy and 15% lower carbon-dioxide emissions compared with a conventional V-6 mill.

“It’s ubiquitous and it’s affordable,” Bill Ford says.

And that’s two things diesel is not, he adds. The fuel can cost up to $0.40 more per gallon than gasoline, the technology adds up to $3,000 to the cost of a vehicle, and diesel is not available at every filling station.

Bill Ford’s remarks run counter to those of his fellow panelists, who sit squarely in the camp of diesel advocates.

Limited choices hurting proliferation of diesels, says BorgWarner CEO Tim Manganello.

Tim Manganello, chairman and CEO of BorgWarner Inc., notes diesel engines provide 30% better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts, as well as 25% fewer emissions and 50% greater torque.

“The problem is there aren’t many choices in the U.S.,” says Manganello, whose company supplies auto makers with parts for diesel engines. “But the Europeans are changing that.”

BMW AG, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG all sell diesels in the U.S. VW’s Jetta TDI has won several green awards, as well as a Ward’s 10 Best Engines nod.

Peter Marks, chairman, president and CEO of Robert Bosch LLC, says Ford, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC must help speed diesel proliferation.

“Auto makers must adopt diesels to make 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km),” he says, referring to the new corporate average fuel economy bogey set by the Obama Admin. “There are not enough of the cars in the market.”

Bill Ford thinks otherwise, believing auto makers can meet the new CAFE standard with existing technology. But the U.S could take a page from Europe’s playbook by taxing fuel to move people to vehicles with more efficient powertrains, he suggests.

Auto makers must adopt diesel technology to meet new CAFE, Robert Bosch CEO Peter Marks sats.

The Ford chairman also admits Europe’s efforts to trim CO2 emissions have been “messy,” but have worked.

“We have not had that dialogue in the U.S. and we need it,” he says, noting that whatever technology emerges as the leading choice among consumers, government incentives will be necessary. “Whatever we choose, we cannot do it ourselves.”

Bill Ford’s colleagues also voice greater skepticism over the role hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and full electric vehicles will play in reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Manganello contends PHEVs and EVs do not make clean-air sense because their power comes from coal-fired electric plants. And, he says, 70% of hybrid owners do not purchase a second one because the products typically fall short of expectations.

Bill Ford admits work must be done to make power sources of electrically driven vehicles more efficient, but the auto maker’s work on “smart grids,” where PHEVS and EVs take power during non-peak hours and push it back during peak hours, shows promise.

“So your car and your house become interchangeable,” he offers, adding Ford has not seen any degradation in second hybrid purchases and that the company is struggling to meet demands for the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

“We are optimistic” about electrified powertrains, Bill Ford says. “It’s clear that as part of a national energy policy electric is going to figure very prominently, and we as a transportation sector need to do our part. It’s clear (the Obama) Admin. wants to develop electric as a viable part of transportation, and we’ll be right here with it.”

Manganello warns against pushing any particular technology over another or forcing it on consumers too quickly.

“Drivers choose with their pocketbook,” he says. “They may not be able to buy anything, and then the economy will really be hurting.”

Bill Ford says a discussion surrounding clean transportation in Detroit demonstrates the industry has changed its position when it comes to improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.

“Five years ago, you could have had a meeting on clean transportation in Detroit and held it in a broom closet with a panel of one,” he jokes to a conference room filled to capacity.

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