Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. may bring development of battery-electric vehicles in-house should volumes warrant, says the auto maker’s director of electrification programs and engineering.

The auto maker currently plans to launch two BEVs – a Transit Connect scheduled to launch later this year, followed by a Ford Focus in 2011.

“The cost of (hybrid-electric vehicles) is lower and they don’t require any change in customer behavior,” Sherif Marakby says, referring to measures such as installing home charging stations.

So HEVs will account for “the bigger portion” of EV penetration, he adds.

“When you get into BEVs, you have to have a larger battery, which is the driving cost. But the battery evolution and revolution has been moving, and things could change in the future,” Marakby says, noting Ford would consider taking the technology development in-house if BEV volumes increase significantly.

Unlike Ford’s HEVs, its BEV powertrains largely have been developed by suppliers, with Azure Dynamics Inc. heading up the Transit Connect program and Magna International Inc. guiding the Focus.

The electric-powered Transit Connect originally was developed for Ford in conjunction with Smith Electric Vehicles U.S. Corp., a leading European electric-commercial vehicle up-fitter. But Smith left the project early on, opening the door for Detroit-based Azure.

Marakby says the two suppliers were tapped to head up development of the BEV powertrains because of their expertise in the field.

“Some suppliers are credible in developing the technology with us, and there was a mutual benefit for us to develop those vehicles together,” he tells Ward’s at the 2010 SAE World Congress here.

BEVs “are a fairly small segment of the market, but as things change and evolve and grow, we could easily look at different ways to do business on these,” he adds, noting Ford is developing some components for its upcoming EVs.

“Developing a BEV from a technology and engineering standpoint is simpler than developing an HEV or PHEV because you only have one energy source,” Marakby says.

“With an HEV or a PHEV, you’re constantly controlling two different energy sources between the engine and the battery. It’s a very complex system.”

Going forward, Ford predicts most of the growth in electrified vehicles will come from hybrids, and to a lesser degree, plug-in HEVs.

Ford plans to launch a PHEV in 2012 that will share many components with its current HEVs, such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Escape Hybrid.

HEVs have shown steady growth in the U.S. since Honda Motor Co. Ltd. introduced its Insight in 1999, selling only 17 units. In 2000, with the introduction of the Toyota Prius, the number of HEV deliveries jumped to 9,350, according to Ward’s data.

The largest increase in U.S. hybrid deliveries occurred in 2005, when 205,828 units were sold, outpacing prior-year’s 84,199 for a 144.5% increase. Through March, U.S. HEV sales totaled 56,716.

bpope@wardsauto.com