Back in the days of the Cold War, there was a practice called “Kremlinology” in the West, wherein analysts (think: CIA) would take things like Pravda and try to figure out whether there was some deeper meaning that could be ferreted out from photos, quotes, and other coverage (vide, Three Days of the Condor).
While not wanting to get too carried away, when Ford last Thursday the availability of a snow-plow prep package for the 2015 F-150—the aluminum F-150—the word aluminum was strangely absent from the announcement.
That is, Eric Peterson, Ford F-150 marketing manager stated in a release, “The new 2015 F-150 is the toughest F-150 ever, and by using more high-strength steel in its frame and advanced materials in the body, we’ve made the new truck up to 700 pounds lighter.”
He added, “This leads to more capability and better handling, which is exactly what you’d want for plowing. Adding a snow plow prep kit to our lineup helps ensure our customers have even more tools at their disposal to get the job done.”
But it is Peterson’s first sentence that deserves a little Kremlinology. The high-strength steel frame is what fundamentally makes snow plowing something that one can do with the truck (well, the powertrain and driveline contribute, too, but you know what I mean). The loads are taken by the frame, not the body. So in this case, it is the steel that matters.
Presumably the “advanced materials in the body” are the aluminum alloys used in the F-150, the “high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloys” that were referred to when the truck was revealed last month at the North American International Auto Show.
But that’s not stated straight out.
Then there is the phrasing, “we’ve made the new truck up to 700 pounds lighter.” Note that the earlier part of the sentence refers to both the steel and the “advanced materials,” which could lead one to conclude that the 700-pound mass reduction isn’t predicated as much on the replacement of steel sheet metal in the body of the F-150 with aluminum as it is on a variety of factors, including stronger, lighter steel for the frame.
While this may be making a lot out of little, given the seeming significance of the utilization of aluminum in such an extensive way as they’re doing with the 2015 truck, it has clear consequences for designers, engineers and manufacturers alike.
Although the picture shown here might bring to mind the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum power source for the Green Lantern Corps (OK, we had to stretch to find that, but this really is a rather sci-fi looking imagine), it is actually a look through a quartz glass window in a test engine that Audi engineers in Ingolstadt are using in their development of “e-fuels,” both e-ethanol and e-diesel.
These fuels are not bio-mass based (i.e., not corn, corn husks, or anything that closely resembles foodstuff for man or beasts) , but actually start with specifically developed micro-organisms that undergo photosynthesis.
The scientists and engineers working on the new fuels have determined that the composition of the e-fuels are more consistent than conventional fossil fuels. They do not contain any olefins or aromatic hydrocarbons; this means cleaner combustion and lower emissions.
While Audi is pursuing electrically powered vehicles, these fuels are another alternative. “Our test shows that as well as electric driving on renewable electricity, there are other concepts that permit long-distance, low-emission driving,” commented Reiner Mangold, Head of Sustainable Product Development at Audi, and these fuels are among those other concepts.
And the picture is just really cool.
It was quite an accomplishment for American Honda. The company has calculated that in 2013 it was a net exporter from the U.S. for the first time.
That is, it exported 108,705 U.S.-made Honda and Acura vehicles in 2013, and it imported 88,537 from Japan.
At first, that may not seem like a big deal. It exported 108,705 vehicles. That’s not a huge number based on 12 months.
But take this into account: It produced 1,309,917 vehicles in the U.S. in 2013, which represents the lion’s share of the 1,359,876 vehicles Honda sold and 165,436 that Acura sold.
Which is to say that Honda’s U.S. manufacturing operations are fairly busy.
Another key data point: Honda is the only manufacturer that had three car lines—the Civic, CR-V and Accord—that sold more than 300,000 units each in 2013. Not Toyota. Not Chevy. Not Ford.
It sold 366,678 Accords, 336,180 Civics, and 303,904 CR-Vs.
So what did American Honda import from Japan? The Honda Fit, Fit EV, Accord plug-in hybrid, CR-Z, FCX Clarity, and Acura RLX and TSX.
The Fit will be produced in Mexico starting in a couple of months. The TSX is going out of production, and the new TLX will go into production in Marysville, Ohio.
Statistically a laudable accomplishment for a company that’s putting its manufacturing where its markets are.
The thing about the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE is that you have to like not using a lot of gas more than you like having the sort of trunk space that you’ve come to expect in a midsize sedan. It’s like this. Because the Energi is a plug-in hybrid, it has a lithium-ion battery pack. Its battery has a 7.6-kWh capacity. Depending on conditions, it can propel the car for 21 miles on electricity alone, which provides crazy-good miles per gallon. But the battery pack needs to be packaged somewhere, so it is behind the rear seat. Or said another way, it is in the trunk. And it takes up a considerable amount of space in the trunk. The cargo capacity for the Fusion Energi is 8.2 cubic feet. By way of comparison, were you to buy a non-hybrid Fusion, you’d discover the trunk provides almost double the space: 16 cubic feet.
Which brings us to the gasoline. The EPA has a way of calculating miles per gallon for hybrids somewhat differently. So when you have a car that can conceivably go 21 miles using no gasoline, things get a bit surreal for those of us who don’t drive in an EPA test lab. The Fusion Energi is rated at 108/92 mpge, which is city/highway miles per gallon equivalency. On the car’s window sticker it has the combined mpge average (100 mpge), and also a number for gasoline-only city/highway combined: 43 mpg. Realize that in addition to the 88-kW permanent magnet AC synchronous motor it has a 141-hp 2.0-liter I4 engine that uses gas. During my week with the Fusion Energi during the Polar Vortex freezing Detroit, I averaged 36 mpg. Which, with the heater blasting, is damned impressive. Anyone who doesn’t think that fuel efficiency is a good feature for people who are more interested in getting from A to B safely and reliably than having something that they can “toss through the corners while getting on the pedal” or some such car reviewer nonsense ought to pump gas while the wind chill is minus 35. About a minute of that and they’d be wishing for more miles per gallon. That said, were you to buy a Fusion with a 181-hp 1.5-liter I4 EcoBoost and auto start-stop you’d get a stickered 25/37/29 mpg, which is really good, albeit not in hybrid territory.
The Fusion Energi Hybrid has a cool-looking covered port in the front driver’s side door panel where the SAE J1772 standard 120-v charger goes for the “plug-in” portion of your fueling. The surround glows. It looks like a car that uses electricity ought to. And, yes, there is a normal place to fill it up with gasoline, as well.
One thing that struck me in not a particularly good way was that the car, which has a base MSRP of $38,700, a car that is something of a mass-market technological tour de force, starts with a key, not a pushbutton. Arguably, something that is ostensibly electrically powered really ought to have a button, not something that was invented 4,000 years ago.
And I would be less than forthright were I not to mention a MyFordTouch issue: While listening to Sirius radio with the center screen selected to Entertainment, there was a black rectangle centered on the screen with reverse white type reading: “No Signal.” Again, I was listening to the radio. This stayed this way the entire week I spent with the car. Possibly there would be some fix to it, but let’s face it: when you have a problem with Windows, there ought to be something a bit more intuitive that Ctl-Alt-Del. So automotive electronic interfaces ought to have something dead-simple to take care of things like “No Signal.”
Overlooking the powertrain and that cool LED exterior ring around the charge port, the car inside and out is a Fusion. Which is certainly a highly competitive product from any angle.
Engine: 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle, 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 141 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Electric motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor
Horsepower: 88 kW
Total system power: 188 hp
Transmission: HF35 eCVT hybrid powersplit transaxle
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 191.8 in.
Width: 75.2 in.
Height: 58 in.
Total interior volume: 111 cu. ft.
Cargo volume: 8.2 cu. ft.
Although one might assume that “One Ford” means that all Ford markets get pretty much all Ford products (OK, it might not make a heck of a lot of sense to sell F-150s in countries where it would be totally Brobdingnagian to understate the case), one vehicle that one might imagine might have some potential in the U.S., the EcoSport, a B-platform based vehicle, went into production last week at Ford Thailand Manufacturing in Rayong.
For those of you keeping score, this is the fourth plant that the vehicle is being produced in, with the others being in Chennai, India, Chonqing, China and Camcari, Brazil. And later this year, it is scheduled to be produced at a plant in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan. That’s in Russia. Explains why that picture is taken outside the Kremlin.
The EcoSport is powered by Ford’s global 1.5-liter Ti-VCT engine, and mated to either the fuel-efficient six-speed Ford PowerShift automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission. It is said capable of seating five, but as an alternative to a compact car, so one should realize this is a compact crossover.
According to Ford, when it is fully rolled out, the EcoSport will be available in 100 markets. Maybe one will be the U.S.