Ford is offering its U.S. commercial and government fleet customers a way to lessen their environmental impact via a powerful new computer program that calculates a vehicle’s carbon footprint.

The auto maker began working on the calculator in 2010 at the behest of customers and recently launched the service. In addition to measuring emissions such as carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen, it also provides fuel-cost estimates based on regional pricing data.

The calculator, which Ford says is simple to use, provides a comparison between any two models currently on the market, including hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

The scope of information provided is vast. For example, fuel-usage of a gasoline-powered vehicle compared with an EV is arrived at by calculating the electricity equivalent (kW/h ) of a gallon of gas.

(See: Ford Calculator)

When measuring environmental impact, the calculator considers the vehicle’s fuel source. If a truck is powered by gasoline, for example, the instrument will show how much energy was used to produce the fuel and its impact on the environment. It measures everything from the amount of energy used to extract oil from the ground, refine it and transport it to service stations.

“We’re not just calculating emissions, but everything upstream that goes into that vehicle,” Sandy Winkler, the Ford senior researcher who led the calculator’s development, tells WardsAuto.

The calculator measures similar metrics for vehicles running on other fuel sources, including biofuels and electricity.

With biofuels, the amount of energy used to grow the organic material, including the impact of the fertilizer, is taken into account. The energy expended to transport the biofuel and that used by the processing plant also is included.

Measuring the environmental impact of the electricity used to power EVs is tricky, Winkler says, noting it varies widely by region. For instance, electricity in Michigan largely is produced by coal-fired plants, which creates a greater a environmental impact than does California’s mix of low-carbon fuels.

“That means the (CO2) emissions from electricity generation (for an EV) are only about 2 tons (1.8 t) in California (compared with) 7 tons (6.4 t) in Michigan,” she says. “If a fleet owner wanted an EV or two, this is a good way to understand the best place to operate to maximize their sustainability image.”

Calculating yearly fuel-cost rates also is a key concern.

“Our fleet customers are very interested in the cost of ownership, so that is something they look it,” says Natalie Olson, Ford communication and events manager-North American fleet operations. Monthly and annual operating costs are provided by the calculator based on the average distance driven and the price of fuel.

And within the next couple months, the calculator will be upgraded to include safety ratings. “Those are very important to customers,” Olson says.

Ford has no plans to make the new calculator available to retail customers, she adds. But there is talk of making use of the tool for the company’s annual sustainability report.

bpope@wardsauto.com