Prodigy Points Way To Ford's Future
June 2000 -- The Prodigy, Ford Motor Company's PNGV hybrid-electric concept vehicle, has a distinctive European-touring-car-on-steroids presence about it that, at least for me, got my pulse racing a bit faster. But as Bob Culver points out, its really what's under the hood of the Prodigy that he's proudest of, its small 1.2 liter CIDI (compression ignition direct injection) engine and its electric drive train. He points out that the CIDI engine is "just a fancy term" for a modern, very clean, very efficient, high-performance diesel engine.
For our new readers who might not be familiar with the concept of hybrid-electric drive systems, the advantage is that you can reduce the size -- and thereby the emissions -- of the internal combustion engine by letting the electric motor/generator and battery packs handle start-up, acceleration and slow-down. When the vehicle is at rest, the CIDI engine on the Prodigy is shut down, also improving fuel economy. In essence, the vehicle has two drive systems, which while it adds to its overall complexity and cost, it also can result in dramatic improvements in performance and efficiency. The Prodigy is rated at an amazing 70 mpg or 3.0 liters per 100 km.
Culver observed that a conventional car uses 11% of its fuel when its stopped and at idle according to the EPA conservative urban driving cycle. He thinks in the real world, this number may actually be even higher. "If you can shut the power off when you're not using it, its a boost in fuel economy," he observed.
"The Prodigy doesn't stop there. It really has a whole total systems approach at getting at the economy numbers... Light weight, aerodynamic, low-rolling resistance tires, a lot of aero features on the car including (miniature video) cameras instead of outside mirrors. All this puts together to give you nearly 80 mpg on a gallon of diesel, which is about 72 miles energy equivalent to a gallon of gasoline."
No Compromise Allowed
Culver explained that from the outset, Ford's Prodigy development team established a "no compromise" design strategy meaning, "no compromise to what the customer expects." This translates into a vehicle with the same interior cabin size as a full-sized Ford Taurus, including in Culver's words "unbelievable trunk space." From the performance perspective, he said the Prodigy is identical to a full-sized, five passenger family sedan.
He also explained that he felt customers would quickly get used to the "engine-off" feature which is admittedly a bit unnerving because that reassuring vibration of the engine vanishes.
He went on to elaborate on the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle, PNGV for short. He said its primary goal was to develop a full size passenger car that could deliver 3 times the fuel economy of the average passenger car in 1993 or about 80 mpg. He said that while the Prodigy didn't quiet reach this goal, for a "mid-term" report card, he'd give his team an A or A+ for the total package they put together.
"We're not all the way there yet," he admitted. "I am not trying to say we've got everything solved and we're ready to bring all these technologies to market today, but it is meant to be a proof of concept and I think it did exactly that."
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