Electricity Only Viable Alternative Vehicle Fuel, Ford Exec Says

LCT Staff
Posted on September 9, 2008

DETROIT – Electricity – not hydrogen, gasoline or ethanol – will fuel the cars of tomorrow, says Ford Motor Co.'s global product development chief, Derrick Kuzak.

However, Ford's car czar said the automaker will continue to develop all of these alternatives.

"The ultimate solution is the electrification of the vehicle," said Kuzak, who stressed he was speaking as an engineer and was not commenting specifically on Ford's future product plans.

He said alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells, in addition to facing several technological hurdles, will require the construction of an entirely new energy infrastructure – something he does not think is likely or practical.

In contrast, an electric car would be able to use the existing power grid. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use an electric only drive train that is powered by the fuel cell to generate electricity.

Erich Merkle, an auto analyst with Crowe Chizek and Co., an accounting and consulting firm, agreed with Kuzak's assessment. "In the longer term, by the end of the next decade, electric vehicles will be well represented in the market," he said.

Speaking to reporters separately, Ford's chief marketing officer, Jim Farley, echoed Kuzak's enthusiasm for electric vehicles. "All I know is that when I talk to customers about electrification they say, 'That's cool!’” he said. "We better be prepared as an industry."

Farley included hybrids in that equation, but Kuzak said current gas-electric hybrids are not a long-term solution because of financial constraints.

"We have to get beyond having two power trains in the vehicle," Kuzak said, noting that such systems are an expensive way to achieve better fuel economy.

A two-mode hybrid power train uses electric motors for low-speed driving and a gas engine at higher speeds. Current plug-in hybrids use electric only power for a few miles, and then operate like a traditional two-mode hybrid.

David Cole, chairman for the Center for Automotive Research, said it's too early to write off fuel cell vehicles despite the infrastructure concerns.

"I agree that electric drive trains are the future, but the totally electric car is off the table," he said. "The range is too short on pure electric."

Cole said he sees electric vehicles with small engines generating additional power as a viable alternative to cars that only plug into the grid to charge batteries. Vehicles with these types of generators could run on ethanol, gasoline, diesel, or even hydrogen in the future.

Current battery technology has limited the range and abilities of electric vehicles. Carmakers have cleared some hurdles, but there hasn't been a significant breakthrough to support a long range electric-only vehicle.

Merkle added that carmakers have to explore as many alternative fuel vehicles as possible to deal with stricter Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

Kuzak said government intervention or consumer preference could ultimately make one of the other alternative power technologies a more viable choice, and that's why Ford is committed to developing all of them.

"We have to, because we don't know how it's going to play out," he said.

Source: The Detroit News

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