Ford Motor Co. is preparing to launch a line of electric vehicles (EVs) globally and is looking further down the road towards making "intelligent" vehicles that could lead to improvements in sustainable transportation.
Chairman Bill Ford wrote in Fortune magazine this week that the company will start rolling out its EVs this year, beginning with an electric Ford Focus. It will be followed by a plug-in hybrid and an electric version of its new, sporty five-seater C-MAX.
He says that 25% of Ford's global fleet will be electric by 2020.
"Some of the most fundamental and enduring elements of the automobile are being radically transformed," says.
While he is referring primarily to replacing internal combustion engines with batteries and electric drive trains, Ford is also exploring other technological leaps that could improve the safety and efficiency of driving.
Intelligent Vehicles on the Way
The company is showcasing its first intelligent vehicle this month in several California markets.
The intelligent vehicle, using Wi-Fi and GPS to communicate wirelessly with other vehicles, can reduce the time drivers sit in traffic jams and can help drivers avoid car accidents. Real time traffic information would be used to route drivers to less congested roads.
Traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities, annually wasting nearly 3.9 billion gallons of fuel and their associated emissions, and costing the average Los Angeles commuter an additional $1,464 a year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report.
Unlike radar-based safety features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, Ford's Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, such as when a driver's vision is obstructed.
For example, drivers could be alerted if their vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly or when a traffic pattern changes on a busy highway. The systems also could warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.
"We are not far from the day when vehicles will operate like mobile devices with four wheels, constantly exchanging information and communicating with our environment to do things like shorten commute times, improve fuel economy and generally help us more easily navigate life on the road," says Paul Mascarenas, vice president, Ford Research and Innovation and chief technical officer.
Ford is partnering with other automakers and the federal government, as well as local and county road commissions, to create a common language that ensures all vehicles can talk to each other based on a common communication standard.
The DOT's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) will head the research, coordinating with a coalition of automakers organized by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), a joint research group headed by Ford and General Motors. The partnership is working to develop inter-operability standards in advance of completing the research phase in 2013.
This public-private partnership will host the world's first government-sponsored driving clinics beginning in summer 2011, for which the company will contribute two prototype Ford Taurus sedans.
"Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice with SYNC and Wi-Fi technology," said Jim Vondale, director, Ford Automotive Safety Office. "Now we're working with other automakers and government leaders worldwide to develop common standards globally to bring intelligent vehicles to market quicker and more affordably."