Paul A. Eisenstein: Ford pushing EcoBoost technology

Paul A. Eisenstein

There’s plenty of talk about hybrids and battery cars, yet battery-electric vehicles collectively account for barely 3 percent of the overall American market.

The stiff premium for the technology is one reason the headlines haven’t been matched by the sales numbers. But there’s another challenge to the hybrid hype: The familiar gasoline engine is getting a lot better at delivering near-hybrid fuel efficiency without the steep premium. Ford’s EcoBoost technology is a good case in point.

EcoBoost borrows many of the same technical tricks that have helped modernize the diesel engine, which can deliver hybridlike mileage and surprising performance. This includes direct injection and turbocharging. But while diesels dominate the European sales charts, they’ve struggled to connect with American buyers, so Ford has decided to focus on conventional gasoline power.

EcoBoost is available on a number of Ford products, such as the 2010 Lincoln MKS and the new Ford Taurus SHO. Significantly, on the latter-performance sedan, the high-tech EcoBoost V6 not only delivers V8 performance but yields the same fuel economy as the standard – slower, less powerful – base Taurus: 17 mpg city, 25 highway. (For an apples-to-apples comparison, both models come with all-wheel-drive.)

Market reaction has been solid, exceeding Ford’s initial expectations and convincing it to move more EcoBoost offerings to market as quickly as possible. With the addition of three new EcoBoost offerings, the powertrain technology soon will be available on 11 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models. That ranges from the maker’s compact European C-Max “people mover” all the way to the F-150 pickup.

By mid-decade, plans call for EcoBoost engines to be available on 80 percent of the Ford global lineup and 90 percent of vehicles sold in North America. The automaker expects global sales of the various EcoBoost engines to total 1.5 million a year by 2015, half of that in North America.

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.

Meeting new standards

Like its competitors, Ford is facing the prospect -- under new federal standards -- of having to boost the mileage of its average vehicle to 35.5 mpg by 2016, a roughly 30 percent increase.

To get there, says Dan Kapp, Ford’s director of powertrain research, the automaker is also upgrading its transmissions, with such new designs as the electrically shifted dual-clutch manual debuting in the 2011 Ford Fiesta. That should boost fuel economy by about 5 percent.

Meanwhile, said Kapp, the automaker is looking to reduce the weight of its vehicles anywhere from 250 to 750 pounds. Weight is considered the enemy of mileage, so this alone could prove a critical step in meeting the government’s new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.