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Ford Factory, Ford Upfits

November 20, 2012 in CNG, Companies, Electric Drive, NGVs, Propane by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

Different Strategies for Electric and Gaseous Fuel Vehicles

Ford is talking up the $550 million upfit of MAP, its venerable Michigan Assembly Plant, for a line of common-platform gasoline and electric-drive vehicles, but has chosen case-by-case upfits by half a dozen aftermarket firms, designated Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVMs), for compressed natural gas and propane.

item updated November 26

Workers at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant attach a charger to a 100% battery Focus Electric, one of five vehicles built at the facility. ‘€˜Flexible work stations make MAP the only manufacturing site in the world to build vehicles with five different fuel-efficient powertrains on the same line,’€™ Ford says.

“There is a strategy behind it and the strategy drove the tactics,” says Ford fleet sustainability and technology manager Jon Coleman.

The strategy difference stems from a combination of customer demand and tradition – and the lack of it, Coleman says.

Ford builds the straight gasoline Focus, an E85-ethanol variant, the Focus ST with EcoBoost engine, the pure battery Focus Electric, the C-Max Hybrid, and the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, immediately west of Dearborn and Detroit.

The electric vehicles are passenger cars, for consumers and fleets alike, and Ford wants to be able to quickly adjust production if demand changes for any one type – if consumers end up liking Ford’s “Energi” plug-in hybrids better than its straight hybrids, for example. Or, maybe the 100% pure battery Focus will emerge the winner.

‘Dial Up and Dial Down’

No one yet knows.

“There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of ambiguity at the customer level about electric vehicles,” Coleman says. With the various EVs in one factory, he told F&F, “We can dial up and dial down production.”

The gaseous fuel vehicles, on the other hand, are trucks and vans, almost all for fleets and commercial customers, which by longstanding practice typically ship through an upfitter for the installation of things like tool cabinets and aerial lifts.

Ford E-Series vans for SuperShuttle being fitted with propane fuel systems by Roush CleanTech in Livonia, Mich.

Ship-through makes sense for the installation of new alternative fuel systems as well, with Ford not having to worry about the staggering degree of bi-fuel versus dedicated and other variations – including those tool cabinets and aerial lifts – that customers may seek.

Both type of vehicles are available via an increasing roster of Ford dealers nationwide.

Half a Dozen QVMers

With dealer involvement Ford had has to address warranties for the non-factory work, which is why it maintains the QVM system for CNG and propane. BAF Technologies (a unit of Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE) and Roush CleanTech are the most qualified of the QVMs, as both also hold Ford QCM status. As Qualified Calibration Modifiers, for CNG and propane respectively, BAF and Roush enjoy direct access to Engine Control Unit (ECU) codes from Ford, and can modify those OEM codes as needed for optimal gaseous fuel engine performance.

BAF acquired its in-house QCM capability via its strategic acquisition earlier this year of Belleville, Mich.-based Servo-Tech (F&F, June 13.)

Ford’s other QVMs have access to QCM data through firms including Michigan’s Badillo Engineering and Mahle Powertrain. Mahle is relocating to Farmington Hills, Mich. as part of a $15 million expansion by Mahle Industries, its European parent.

The other QVMs, all for CNG, are Altech-Eco, Impco Automotive, Landi Renzo USA, Venchurs Vehicle Systems, Westport LD. All have publicized ship-through arrangements.

Ford has meanwhile announced a raft of milestones and achievements for the new MAP-built vehicles, which include the straight gasoline Focus, an E85-ethanol variant, the pure battery Focus Electric, the C-Max Hybrid and the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid (Ford Fusion vehicles are built elsewhere):

  • the start of production of the C-Max Energi plug-in for 2013;
  • beating the Toyota Prius V, 3,182 units to 2,769, in the first full month of sales for the C-Max Hybrid, making it the best seller in the utility class;
  • U.S. EPA certification of the C-Max Energi at 108 miles per gallon equivalent city, 92 MPGe highway and 100 MPGe combined, “estimated to save $7,000 in fuel costs over five years” (with up to 620 miles range on a full charge and full tank of gasoline);
  • U.S. EPA certification of the Focus Electric at 105 MPGe city and highway combined, “beating Nissan Leaf by 6 MPGe while offering more motor power and more standard features;”
  • the tripling of dealers certified to sell the plug-in vehicles, to more than 200, with 700 more enrolled for certification, paving the way for certified dealers in all 50 states by early 2013 – “nearly triple Ford’s initial plans;” and
  • last but not least, the announcement just today that GE will purchase 2,000 C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids (see related story posting soon).

Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant was opened in 1957. It covers 5 million square feet of space on 369 acres, and according to a recent fact sheet employs 4,943 hourly and 227 salaried workers – and 908 robots. “MAP,” Ford says, “is the only plant in the world to build gasoline-powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the same production line.”


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Source: Fleets & Fuels reportage

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