DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co. not only is planning to meet the looming 35-mpg (6.7 L/100 km) fleet fuel-economy requirement coming in 2020, it plans to exceed it, a senior engineer says.

“Consumers are going to demand more than that, and we’re on a pathway to deliver more than that,” says Barb Samardzich, vice president-powertrain product development.

“Our objective is to go as far as possible with the technology available that we can offer consumers at an affordable price so we can have a corporate fuel economy number that exceeds regulations.”

Samardzich makes her remarks to Ward’s on the sidelines of an event here to announce new fuel-savings technologies from Ford, including more-efficient gas and hybrid-electric powertrains for the upcoming ’10 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsize sedans.

Ford for ’10 adds a new 2.5L I-4 to the Fusion and Milan lineup that produces 175 hp, as well as an enhanced version of its 3.0L V-6, and for the first time will offer a 3.5L V-6 in the sedans.

The new I-4, borrowed from the '09 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner cross/utility vehicles, is expected to achieve at least 3 mpg (1.3 km/L) better on the highway than the Honda Accord and 2 mpg (0.9 km/L) than the Toyota Camry, Ford says, noting final fuel-economy numbers have yet to be validated.

All engine offerings will be paired with 6-speed automatic transmissions, which Ford says bolsters fuel economy up to 10%. Other performance-enhancing technologies for the Fusion and Milan include variable cam timing and electric power steering.

Additionally, the 3.0L V-6 gets aggressive deceleration fuel shut-off, resulting in a 1% fuel-economy improvement, and SelectShift, which allows drivers to select gears manually.

By using powertrains already developed for other models, engineers were able to quickly and efficiently offer the mills in the Fusion and Milan, a key aspect of CEO Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” initiative, Samardzich says, noting the powertrain strategy is being used worldwide.

“The powertrain community is so global, it makes your head spin,” she says. “The V-6 engines aren’t that high in demand in Europe right now. But the I-4 engine we use is the I-4 engine they use, and as we introduce European vehicles (in the U.S.), they will come with the same power packs we’re using in Europe.”

Samardzich says she expects the I-4 to be “by far” the volume engine in the new Fusion and Milan, as consumers flock toward more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“The (take rate) for I-4s is now 50%. Every I-4 we can produce, there’s a customer wanting to take it,” she says. I think consumers aren’t as concerned with the number of cylinders or the numerical displacement. I think they’re concerned with performance, how it feels to drive and fuel economy.”

Ford has been looking at ways to expand its range of fuel-efficient engines, including a 2.7L V-6 based on the 3.5L architecture, Samardzich says. But there may not be much to be gained by the smaller V-6.

“I’m struggling with the advantage you get with a turbocharged I-4 compared to a 2.7L V-6,” she says. “But we’re looking at those studies all the time.”

Asked if Ford should alter its fuel-efficiency strategy due to falling gasoline prices, Samardzich says “absolutely not.”

“We all got a dose of reality on how fuel prices can change drastically,” she says. “It’s not even a function of constraints around natural resources, it’s how political and speculated interests can really drive price. Oil prices are going to go up sooner or later, and that’s going to translate at the pump.”

Ford also reveals details of the upcoming ’10 Fusion and Milan HEVS, including an innovative new display dubbed SmartGauge with EcoGuide, which provides real-time information on the powertrain to help drivers maximize fuel efficiency.

In developing the system, Ford researchers crisscrossed the country asking consumers what would make their HEV driving experience more exciting and helpful.

The new instrument cluster features an analog speedometer in the center, flanked by two full-color liquid-crystal display screens.

The screens can be reconfigured to display different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, and average and instant miles-per-gallon. The screen to the right displays a graphic of leaves and vines, which grow, or shrink, depending on how economically the vehicle is operated.

Drivers can choose one of four data screens to select the information level displayed. These include:

  • Inform: Shows fuel-level and battery-charge status.
  • Enlighten: Adds electric-vehicle mode indicator and tachometer.
  • Engage: Adds engine- and battery-output power.
  • Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption.

The display was developed by Ford in conjunction with supplier Johnson Controls Inc. and eventually may find its way into the Escape and Mariner HEVs. It also could be modified for use in non-hybrid vehicles, says Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of hybrid-vehicle programs.

“We’re excited about the technology. And if it takes off with customers it’s a technology we want to continue to promote,” Gioia tells Ward’s.

In addition to the new display panel, the ’10 Fusion and Milan HEVs get an upgraded hybrid powertrain that allows drivers to travel at speeds up to 47 mph (76 km/h) in electric-only mode, and boasts a range of more than 700 miles (1,127 km) in city driving.

“Because our hybrid can run at a much higher speed in electric mode, you can do so much more in city-driving situations,” says Gil Portalatin, hybrid applications manager. “You can drive in your subdivision or mall parking lots without using a drop of gasoline.”

Ford says its new hybrid system was developed entirely with its own technology. Ford’s first-generation hybrid, used some technology patented by Toyota Motor Corp. for its Prius.

“This is 100% Ford technology,” Gioia says. “It’s all Ford innovation and engineered right here in North America.”

The HEVs utilize new nickel-metal-hydride “traction” battery cells in their power packs, which are lighter and can produce 20% more power than the pack used in the Escape and Mariner hybrids.

The battery pack was developed by Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., while the system integration was handled by Delphi Corp. and Ford, Gioia says, noting that the system may eventually be used in other hybrid applications, including the Escape and Mariner.

Although fuel-economy figures for the new Fusion and Milan HEVs are expected to be released closer to their launch date in first-quarter 2009, Gioia says they will better the '09 Toyota Camry hybrid by at least 5 mpg (2.1 km/L) in the city.

The Camry Hybrid achieves 33/34 mpg (7.1-7.0 L/100 km) city/highway.

bpope@wardsauto.com