Green-lighting Ford's "clean" technologies

  • 31-Mar-2015 01:14 EDT
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Michael Tinskey said Ford will soon announce new projects aimed at furthering vehicle electrification in China's EV market.


As Ford Motor Co.'s Global Director of Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure, Michael Tinskey eats, sleeps, and breathes sustainable mobility. His small group of "clean technologists" are linked with industry and academic partners on several fronts, including smart mobility experiments. Since electrification and infrastructure first grabbed Tinskey’s work duties in 2009, Ford has launched two plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and an all-electric car. Tinskey recently sat down with Automotive Engineering for an interview.

What is the most challenging global region for vehicle electrification?

Each region has a unique set of challenges. China is really promoting electrification, and one of the reasons is energy security. Their gross domestic product continues to grow. And that means their automotive market is continuing to grow, and their thirst for oil is continuing to grow. China is one of the world’s largest oil importers, so access to reliable crude is really challenging. The other side of the challenge with China is their strong reliance on coal to produce their electricity.

If you put a lot of electrified vehicles on the grid and that grid is using coal, then the air quality goes in the wrong direction. We have some really neat projects that we’re going to be announcing soon to help China embrace electrification and air quality at the same time.

What is Ford’s strategy in China for electrified vehicles?

When we look at a market, we have to have a few things. We need to make sure there’s charging infrastructure--both public and for homes--and that there are policies in place that allow us to get the needed infrastructure. We look for favorable policies, so that electrified vehicles are affordable. And we look at other incentives, like discounted electric vehicle registration fees. When all those pieces come together at both a central and a regional level, that’s when we believe electrification is likely to take off. Those things haven’t come together yet in China.

In China, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around some of the policies and how the policies will be implemented. And infrastructure plans are still being finalized both in terms of standards and rolling out the charging stations. In 2014, China sold around 23 million passenger vehicles with about 75,000 of those being electric vehicles. Ford isn’t selling plug-in vehicles in China yet, and that’s because the market is in the very early days of being electrification-ready.

Why are smart mobility experiments important to the progression of electrified vehicles?

The smart mobility experiments we’re doing really address the issues surrounding sustainability. And sustainability transcends all forms of mobility, including electrified vehicles. My group was involved in four experiments, including the antiquated exercise of finding a parking spot. We found that 12% of drivers find a parking spot immediately, while 88% of drivers take up to 30 minutes to locate a parking spot. We think it’s much more effective to use ultrasonic sensors on vehicles to create a real-time parking database in the cloud rather than spending billions of dollars putting sensors on the infrastructure. Using ultrasonic sensors on vehicles is a smart way to eliminate or mitigate the traffic congestion caused by a distracted driver looking for a parking spot, especially street parking.

In another experiment, we’re using LTE 4G networks to re-position a vehicle from a remote location. We’re working at very low speeds, mostly 10 mph, but we’re getting better at the video-compression and getting as much as possible from the bandwidth. What we’d like to do next is see if it’s possible to perform the vehicle re-positioning at street speeds from a remote location. Our original goal for this experiment was to re-position a vehicle during night-time hours to get it ready for a daytime rental or car sharing reservation.

How will connected vehicle initiatives impact vehicle electrification?

There is a tremendous amount of information that can go back and forth between the vehicle and the cloud. We have embedded modems in every one of our plug-in products. When a customer enables the MyFord Mobile app, the driver can access all sorts of information, like locating the nearest charge stations and determining the amount of electricity needed to get from point A to point B. If a user opts to share data with Ford, we get the analytics that show how our customers are using plug-in vehicles, like how far they’re driving on a charge and how often the vehicle is being charged. That data has been tremendously powerful in shaping our next-generation product.

What are the high-points of vehicle electrification so far?

The very end of 2011/beginning of 2012 marked the first sales of Ford’s first-generation plug-in vehicles. During the past two and half to three years, Ford has sold approximately 40,000 plug-in vehicles. Other manufacturers are also growing their electrified vehicle portfolio. I’m very bullish on vehicle electrification. It’s not going to be as quick as flipping a light switch, but there is going to be a migration toward electrification.

One of the proof-points is the amount of all-electric miles. Just for Ford vehicles, the data shows that more than 600,000 miles a day are driven in electric mode. So every two days that’s 1.2 million all-electric miles being driven in Focus Electric cars and our two plug-in hybrids, the C-MAX Energi and the Fusion Energi. In the U.S., Ford sold about 22,000 plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles in 2014. The year before it was probably 60% of that figure, and the year before that it was probably 50% of that figure. So you can start to see the progression.

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