Highlights of the year’s major events at Ford:
• The Ford Focus electric vehicle is unwrapped at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Assn.’s annual tradeshow in Las Vegas. Launching in North America in late 2011, the EV’s batteries can be recharged in about three hours using a 240V outlet.
The auto maker says the speedy charge time will differentiate it from competitors and define the EV “ownership experience.”
• The Ford Vertrek is unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in January. The auto maker says the concept vehicle is a strong indicator of the replacement for both the Escape and European Kuga cross/utility vehicles. Later in the year, Ford unveils the all-new ’13 Escape, which will share sheetmetal with the Kuga and bears a striking resemblance to the Vertrek concept.
• Ford takes the wraps off the C-Max Energi cross/utility vehicle, its first plug-in electric-hybrid vehicle. Based on the same underpinnings as the new global Ford Focus, the 5-passenger CUV is aimed at young families.
While Ford has operated PHEV test fleets for years, the Energi marks its first production-ready model. The vehicle goes on sale in 2012 and is expected to have a combined gasoline/electric range of 500 miles (800 km), which the auto maker says is the longest range of any PHEV on the market.
• Media criticism of Ford’s newly launched MyFord Touch infotainment center starts to negatively affect key third-party quality evaluations. The auto maker says surveys reveal consumers like the new system. But complaints continue, and Ford later announces an update is in the works.
• Ford reveals plans to invest $400 million in its Kansas City, MO, assembly plant to accommodate a new vehicle when production of the Ford Escape cross/utility vehicle is transferred to the Louisville, KY, facility. The outlay will be used to install a new body shop, tooling and other upgrades.
• The refreshed ’13 Taurus fullsize sedan will be the first Ford vehicle to offer two direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost engines, the auto maker says. The updated Taurus will be available with either a 237-hp 2.0L inline 4-cyl. or a 365-hp 3.5L EcoBoost V-6. A normally aspirated 290-hp 3.5L V-6 also will be available.
• Ford reports first-quarter net income of $2.6 billion, and CEO Alan Mulally warns of stumbling blocks in an “uncertain world.” The executive says chief among concerns is the lingering parts-supply problem related to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The auto maker is seeking to minimize the impact by working closely with key suppliers to find alternatives where parts shortages appear imminent.
• Bigger is not always better, Ford says, as it announces a new 1.0L direct-injected turbocharged 3-cyl. EcoBoost engine that it is adding to its global powertrain portfolio.
The 3-cyl., the auto maker’s smallest production engine ever, boasts a number of technologies designed to improve efficiency. Among them is a new Ford-designed split cooling system that allows the block to warm up before the cylinder head, which saves fuel.
Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president-global product development, says the time is right for the diminutive engine, which will be sold in all global markets, including North America.
• Chief marketer Jim Farley says Ford plans to triple production of electrified vehicles in North America to about 100,000 units annually by 2013.
In addition to hybrids and plug-in EV versions of the C-Max cross/utility vehicle launching in 2012, an unnamed next-generation hybrid will be rolled out in the same timeframe.
A Focus battery-electric vehicle debuts later this year, while a limited-run Transit Connect EV van already is on the market.
• Ford in July addresses reported problems with its PowerShift dual-clutch transmission by implementing a communications strategy to better explain the technology to consumers. Dealers are sent instructions to help sales and service personnel enlighten car buyers about the behavioral nuances of the fuel-saving 6-speed automatic gearbox.
The move comes after the Blue Oval brand’s Fiesta and Focus draw fire from influential third-party groups such as J.D. Power & Associates. The small cars are equipped with PowerShift DCTs, which some buyers say are balky.
• Ford and Toyota ink an agreement to jointly develop rear-wheel-drive, hybrid-electric powertrains. The auto makers say increasing the fuel efficiency of light-duty pickups and SUVs is imperative to remain viable in a U.S. market facing increasingly stringent government regulations. The partners want to mitigate costs and increase speed-to-market of their products.
• Ford’s tentative new labor agreement with the United Auto Workers is hailed as a vote of confidence in U.S. manufacturing. The 4-year deal brings to U.S. plants a handful of product programs that have their roots in low-cost countries such as Mexico.
They include Ford Fusion sedan production that until now has been exclusive to the auto maker’s plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. Additional Fusion production will be added at Ford’s Flat Rock, MI, assembly plant, whose future was cast in doubt earlier in the year when partner Mazda announced it was pulling Mazda6 production from the facility.