This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

July 30, 2008

Ford Shifts Towards Smaller, More Fuel-Efficient Cars

Ford Motor Company announced on July 24 that it will accelerate its plans to transform itself into a maker of smaller and more fuel-efficient cars, changing both its North American manufacturing plans and its lineup of vehicles available in the United States. In terms of North American manufacturing, the company will convert three existing truck and sport utility vehicle (SUV) plants for small car production, with the first conversion starting in December at its Michigan Truck Plant. In addition, Ford's assembly plants near Mexico City, Mexico, and in Louisville, Kentucky, will convert from pickups and SUVs to small cars, including the Ford Fiesta, by 2011. Ford will also introduce to North America six of its European small vehicles, including two versions of the Ford Fiesta, by the end of 2012. And last but not least, Ford is stepping up its production of fuel-efficient "EcoBoost" V-6 and four-cylinder engines, while increasing its production of hybrid vehicles. See the Ford press release.

Given Ford's new emphasis on its European vehicles, a virtual trip to the British International Motor Show in London is in order. Ford is displaying five models of its all-new Fiesta at the auto show, which opened to the public on July 23. Among the models on display is the world debut of Ford's "ECOnetic" version of the Ford Fiesta, which combines more aerodynamic styling, a lowered suspension, low-rolling-resistance tires, low-friction oil, and a specially tuned, turbocharged, direct-injection diesel engine. As a result, it achieves 63.6 miles per U.S. gallon (mpg) on the European combined test cycle, which generally yields higher fuel economy numbers than the U.S. test methods (note also that the U.K. gallon is about 20% larger than the U.S. gallon, so we've adjusted these numbers accordingly). The standard diesel version of the Fiesta achieves 52.3 mpg, while diesel versions of the European Ford Focus achieve 52.3 mpg for most body styles and 54.7 mpg for the ECOnetic model. Of course, the United States has stricter emissions rules than in Europe, so it may not be possible for Ford to offer similar models in the United States. See the Ford press release, the Ford Web site for the British Motor Show, and the Ford U.K. list of vehicles with high fuel economy and low carbon dioxide emissions.

Photo of the Lightning GTE, a sleek sports car with a long nose and a low cockpit that blends into a short rear end. The car is on an auto show display turntable with a crowd of people in the background.

With styling reminiscent of an Aston Martin, the lightweight Lightning GTE combines a lithium titanate battery pack with in-wheel motors for performance on par with today's top supercars. Enlarge this image.
Credit: The Lightning Car Company

Like many recent auto shows, the British Motor Show has a schizophrenic nature, unveiling a host of new "green" cars with low or zero emissions while showcasing the history of high-performance supercars. Lotus is even trying to span that gap by unveiling the "Eco Elise," a version of its classic sports car that incorporates solar panels into a roof made from hemp, while also employing natural materials in the body and interior of the car. Honda took a similar approach, unveiling a two-seat sports car concept that apparently relies on aerodynamics and lightweight materials to achieve unspecified "low" emissions. The auto show also follows a trend seen recently in the United States, with small companies unveiling high-priced, high-performance electric cars. The Lightning Car Company, for instance, unveiled the Lighting GTS, which incorporates quick-charging lithium titanate batteries from Altair Nanotechnologies, Inc. into a body made from carbon fiber and Kevlar composites. The Lightning GTS employs in-wheel motors to accelerate to 60 miles per hour in less than 4 seconds. The company is taking orders for 2009 delivery, but it is not yet advertising a price for the vehicle. The British International Motor Show continues through August 3. See the British Motor Show Web site, the Lotus press release, the Honda press release, and photos and text from the unveiling of the Lightning GTS.