DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co. will roll out at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week a broad, aggressive powertrain strategy designed to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions – without impacting vehicle performance.

The game plan will rely heavily on application of Ford’s upcoming gasoline turbo direct-injection engine technology, dubbed EcoBoost, as well as widespread use of several other weight-savings and high-efficiency technologies.

“We recognize we need to be part of the solution of global warming, part of the solution of addressing our global security,” Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development says here in detailing the strategy for journalists. “We also recognize the problem is complex. It is not one single solution; solutions will evolve over time. But for us, the one fundamental principle to the approach is (carbon-dioxide) solutions that are economical and efficient.”

Kuzak also calls on other industries to help reduce CO2 emissions, citing research that shows light vehicles account for just 18% of total U.S. emissions. “The auto industry can’t do it (reduce emissions) alone,” he says.

Near-term, which Ford describes as the 2008-2012 timeframe, the auto maker plans to have some 500,000 vehicles powered by EcoBoost technology on the road in North America. More hybrid-electric vehicles and diesels also will play a role in Ford’s effort to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions across its fleet, Kuzak says.

Ford’s EcoBoost technology, originally badged TwinForce, enables the retention of fuel-efficient, lower-displacement engine architectures while promising the performance associated with larger, thirstier mills, Ford says, adding it has the capability to wrest the power of a large inline 4-cyl. engine out of a 1.0L I-4 with a 3 mpg (1.3 km/L) fuel improvement.

Furthermore, a 2.0L I-4 would produce more torque than a 3.0L V-6 engine with a 5 mpg (2.1 km/L) improvement, Kuzak says.

Overall, the technology is expected to deliver up to 20% better fuel economy, Ford says.

Ford’s GTDI technology debuted at the 2007 Detroit auto show in the Lincoln MKR concept car and will be offered in the upcoming ’09 Lincoln MKS sedan and ’09 Flex cross/utility vehicle.

At the onset, the GTDI technology will be based on Ford’s Duratec 35 and 37 all-aluminum V-6 engines, Ford says. The technology will be used on both 4- and 6-cyl. applications.

Kuzak says Ford’s approach is unique in the sense that, with the exception of Mazda Motor Corp., GTDI technology currently is being used mostly in high-end luxury vehicles from Audi AG, BMW AG and General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac brand, not in more mainstream vehicles.

Also falling into the near-term timeframe is the increased usage of existing technology, such as 6-speed transmissions and dual-clutch systems, to eke out incremental fuel economy increases.

Other existing technologies expected to proliferate include: battery management systems; aerodynamic improvements; hybrid-electric powertrains; diesel engines; and electric-power assisted steering (EPAS).

Between 80%-90% of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles will have EPAS by 2012, Ford says.

But Kuzak is quick to point out the “cornerstone (of future powertrains) is EcoBoost. They have a cooler air charge that’s better controlled and (provides) a higher boost,” he says. “It’s a more efficient burn.”

Honeywell International Inc. (maker of Garrett turbochargers) will be the primary supplier of turbochargers used in Ford’s EcoBoost applications, while Robert Bosch GmbH will supply the direct-injection systems, Kuzak says.

One of EcoBoost’s greatest advantages is cost of ownership, Kuzak says.

“EcoBoost is meaningful because it can be applied across a wide variety of engine types in a range of vehicles, from small cars to large trucks – and it’s affordable,” he says.

“Compared with the current cost of diesel and hybrid technologies, customers can expect to recoup their initial investment in a 4-cyl. EcoBoost engine through fuel savings in approximately 30 months,” Kuzak says. “A diesel will take an average of seven and one-half years, whole the cost of a hybrid will take nearly 12 years to recoup – given equivalent miles driver per year and fuel costs.”

Ford’s mid- to long-term powertrain strategy includes shaving vehicle weight through increased use of aluminum and high-strength steel and reducing displacement, including the introduction of a 1.0L GTDI small car by 2020, Kuzak says. By then, the number of diesel engines in Ford’s lineup will grow 10% and nearly all Ford vehicles will have GTDI powertrains, he adds.

In 2020 and beyond, Ford will offer HEVs in high volume, as the technology becomes more affordable. Clean electric, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-fueled vehicles also are on the horizon, Kuzak says.

“In the near- and mid-term (we’re) not relying on battery technology,” he says. “HEV batteries are viable, but (batteries) for all-electric vehicles are not yet viable. We have to work on technology and affordability.”

Meanwhile, Ford will offer up an example of its powertrain strategy at this month’s Detroit show in the form of the all-wheel-drive Ford Explorer America.

The concept, which Ford says provides a sneak peak at the next-generation Explorer, seats six and is based on the Taurus platform. It is powered by either a 3.5L EcoBoost engine producing 340 hp and capable of towing 3,500 lbs. (1,588 kg) or a 2.0L 4-cyl. mill delivering 275 hp and 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) of torque.

Depending on engine selection, fuel efficiency will improve by 20%-30% vs. today’s V-6 Explorer, Ford says.

Kuzak says the Explorer America, which boasts side sliding doors similar to a minivan, “is fuel efficient and comfortable.”

As for whether customers are willing to purchase an Explorer based off of a car platform, Kuzak says he’s “not sure many customer understand the difference between a CUV and an SUV.”

bpope@wardsauto.com