Ford Announces More Hybrids in the Future

By: Mike Bartley

The struggling Dearborn-based car manufacturer Ford Motor Company announced that it will be producing more hybrid vehicles in the near future as the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles increases. The company said that they are facing engineering challenges in the development of these future hybrid vehicles.

Nancy Gioia, the Director of Ford's Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, said in a conference at Ann Arbor, Michigan that Ford will be producing more hybrid vehicles aside from the current Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

The announcement is the first hint about Ford's future plans for hybrid vehicles since April this year. During that month, FoMoCo President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally appointed an executive to a new position which is tasked with addressing environmental concerns.

With the introduction of the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004, Ford became the first American car manufacturer to offer a gas-electric hybrid vehicle. In 2006, Ford introduced the Mercury Mariner Hybrid in the United States auto market. The Mariner is similar to looks and operation to its sibling, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Due to reduced sales in the United States, Ford backed off on their initial goal fore the production of hybrid vehicles. This move was criticized by environmental advocates pointing out that the company has lost its dedication to protecting the environment by halting its plan for more hybrid vehicles.

In response to the criticism and the increasing demand for hybrid vehicles, Bill Ford, the company's Executive Chairman said that he regretted that the company did not immediately develop hybrid and other fuel efficient vehicles. The company though has taken steps to address environmental issues. Their Ann Arbor plant is considered as one of the most environment friendly vehicle assembly facilities in the country.

Currently, the hybrid vehicle market is being dominated by the largest Japanese car manufacturer that is Toyota. The Prius alone, the first mass produced hybrid vehicle, posted doubling sales figures in the past months. Toyota earlier announced that they have already sold more than one million units of their hybrid vehicles.

Ford's Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid, meanwhile, are far behind Toyota hybrid vehicles in terms of sales. While Toyota has already sold 77,000 units of the Prius in the United States auto market for the first five months of the year, Ford only managed to sell 11,000 units of the Escape and Mariner Hybrids combined. The 11,000 units sold by Ford indicate an eight percent increase compared to the first five months last year. For Toyota though, the increase in the sale of the Prius reaches about 50 percent.

Environmental advocates are calling for Ford and other car manufacturers to market plug-in hybrid vehicles. These are vehicles which has a battery pack that can be charged via a common household socket. These vehicles can also run on pure electric power over relatively short distances. This means that for city driving, these vehicles will not consume any petroleum fuel and will produce no greenhouse gas. This makes them more fuel efficient and environment friendlier than gasoline engine-powered vehicles even those equipped with .

Nancy Gioia said that Ford is currently developing plug-in hybrid vehicles but is facing challenge as to the development of an efficient and reasonably-priced battery pack. It is expected though that Ford will take steps similar to General Motors which has secured the services of independent companies to develop advanced lithium-ion battery packs for automotive application.

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