Ford Considers Offering Hybrid Gas-Electric Volvo

Ford's Parry-Jones "keen to move ahead with Volvo hybrid."

Published: 03-Feb-2003

N style="FONT: bold 12px times new roman, times, serif"> By NORIHIKO SHIROUZU
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co., due to become the first U.S. auto maker to market a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle early next year, is seriously considering expanding its hybrid offering, and a second hybrid will most likely be a Volvo.

Richard Parry-Jones, Ford group vice president for global product development, said he is "keen to move ahead with Volvo hybrids." Volvo is one of the several luxury European brands Ford owns. Others include Jaguar and Land Rover.

Mr. Parry-Jones said in a recent interview that Volvo customers tend to be affluent and more educated. "I think it makes a lot of sense" to offer hybrids for those customers, he said.

Many Ford-brand customers, by contrast, "won't disadvantage themselves financially in order to get that image benefit" they believe they gain from owning a futuristic hybrid vehicle.

Ford is gearing up to begin "pilot production" of its first hybrid vehicle, a hybrid version of the compact Escape sport-utility vehicle, late this year. The Escape hybrid is expected to arrive in dealer showrooms in the first quarter of 2004. A hybrid's propulsion system combines a gasoline engine and electric motors to deliver significant improvement in fuel economy.

Led by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., several major auto makers, including Ford, General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG, are planning to produce a wide array of gas-electric vehicles over the next few years, potentially pushing the technology into the mainstream of the U.S. market.

GM said in January it would put as many as one million hybrid vehicles on the road over the next five years, although it admits that a majority of those hybrids are likely to be "mild hybrids" with a beefed-up starter-generator that provides an electric boost to the vehicle to assist its combustion engine under heavy acceleration, as well as a stop-start function that helps save fuel by shutting down the powertrain when a vehicle comes to a stop.

The Escape's hybrid propulsion system, Mr. Parry-Jones said, is highly "modular," which means that the system "can be transported from vehicle to vehicle relatively easily." The only significant repackaging Ford has to do to use the system in other vehicles is fitting the large battery it has to install with the hybrid system.

The Escape hybrid propulsion system can be fitted with a wide array of vehicles by an array of Ford's brands. Among such vehicles, Mr. Parry-Jones said, are a couple of midsize Ford cars, including the upcoming Ford 500 "tall" sedan, which is expected to be launched in 2004; vehicles from the Mercury brand, as well as a range of Volvo vehicles.

Still, Mr. Parry-Jones said Volvo vehicles, such as the new XC90 sport-utility vehicle, the V70 and Cross Country station wagons, and the S80 car, are "by far the best fit."

"A less good fit but probably a bit more relevant than Ford-brand vehicles is Mercury," he added.

He said Ford would increase hybrid offerings "progressively over the next five years" following the introduction of the Escape hybrid.

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