Ford to Revive Escort as a Plug-In Hybrid
It seems Ford has seen the (green) light and is fast-tracking a dedicated hybrid model using advanced batteries and plug-in functionality. Ford apparently realized the potential of the lithium-ion batteries released recently by A123 Systems for applications such as the Plug-in Hybrid Saturn Vue and 2010 Chevrolet Vue, and is preparing their own application – a dedicated hybrid model under the venerable Escort name.
Unlike the Vue, which will use the two-mode hybrid developed by GM, BMW and Daimler-Chrysler, or unlike the Volt which will be a series-hybrid, the Ford model will most likely use a conventional parallel single-mode hybrid. Ford is familiar with this system as it uses it in the Escape; it also the same system used by Toyota in its hybrid Synergy Drive that is used in cars such as the Prius.
The new car will most likely be built on the new small-car platform underpinning the upcoming Ford Verve. The platform is probably the best vessel for the system available to Ford: it is lightweight, cheap and modern. It uses simple torsion beam rear suspension that takes up less space, and given the start of production in mid-year 2008, the platform is ready to be built on immediately. Other options would include the current global Focus platform or one of the orphaned North American platforms, but the global Focus platform is not currently suited for US market, and the US-specific platforms are all older and thus not as desirable. Finally, with both Toyota and Honda moving the hybrid game to smaller models, Ford will probably do their best to follow that initative.
Under the hood, the car will probably use the Generation II Hybrid that is about to be released in the Fusion Hybrid this November. This new system is similar to the one currently under the hood of the Ford Escape hybrid, but the new generation will offer packaging flexibility as well as “engine flexibility.” The current system was custom built for the Escape and the 2.3l engine; Fitting the system into any other car, or pairing it with another engine would require major engineering investment. Ford realized this mistake, and thus the new hybrid system was designed to allow for such flexibility – making the batteries and the electric motor fit into different engine bays and pairing with smaller or larger engines will be now much simpler and cheaper. As stated before, this will remain a single-mode parallel hybrid, making it less innovative than the Volt, but also less costly.
Overall, the new Escort will feature a unique look and name, offer plug-in-functionality, and will aim for 100 miles per gallon. With a timeline aiming for a release in the fall of 2010, Ford might just have a solid entry into the growing small-hybrid segment. And while Volt aims to out-perform this segment with extensive electric-only range and better fuel economy, the added cost of the Volt’s system will likely make the traditional hybrids still an attractive proposition.
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