Yesterday Ford Motor Co. announced that the company would accelerate investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids. The moves come as Ford and its competitors within the American automobile industry experience a resurgence following their near-death experience just a few years ago.
Ford’s investment in cars other than those powered by conventional internal combustion engines (ICE) shows that the Big 3, albeit too slowly for some EV advocates, are continuing their shift towards the next generation of automobiles. At Ford, the ramped up spending on EVs and hybrids is a combination of new hires, research and development and space.
The following are a few ways in which Ford says it is preparing for the next generation of cars:
More engineers: Considering Detroit’s on-again and very off-again interest in EVs, the size of Ford’s engineering team focused on electrification may surprise you. I assumed Ford had, well, five or six engineers devoted to EV research. But Ford employs over 1,000 engineers on electrification technology, with 60 hired last year and dozens expected to onboard before January 1. Many of the engineers the company recruited to work on vehicles such as the Focus Electric were previously at aerospace companies, and worked on jets, satellites, rockets and unmanned spacecraft.
Advanced battery systems: Ford is investing $135 million in the design, engineering and production of key battery components for next-generation hybrid and electric vehicles going into production this year.
Research and development space: A 285,000 square foot R&D lab in Dearborn, MI, which was known as the Advanced Engineering Center for almost half a century, will become Ford’s focal point for hybrid and electric vehicle research. Most of the company’s engineers who work on hybrids and EVs will be based at this new Advanced Electrification Center.
Battery testing: Ford’s battery testing capabilities should double before 2013 to a total of 160 battering testing channels. These machines test and simulate a variety of factors that affect battery life, from severe temperature fluctuation to power and performance.
Supplier consolidation and new technologies: Ford is bringing in more of its battery testing in-house and is also developing new technologies to allow its staff to quickly collect and analyze the necessary data during research projects. Instead of frantic searches to find the right supplier, more projects are conducted entirely within Ford and on the company’s own equipment. Ford estimates that most current battery testing projects are finished 25 percent faster than similar tasks that engineers had completed on the company’s previous generation hybrids.
The massive rollout of electric vehicles still has a long ways to go, but those days may come sooner than we think with the increased focus to which Ford has placed on battery technology and electrification.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photos courtesy Ford Motor Co.