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EuroAuto: TFord's U.K. Investment in Diesels

The talk of the Frankfurt Auto Show may have been the advent of the European hybrid-namely those from German carmakers who were presenting them thru gritted teeth-but the truth of the matter is that Europeans are wedded to diesel engines to the extent that they can now be found under the hoods of every other car leaving the new car showrooms.

The talk of the Frankfurt Auto Show may have been the advent of the European hybrid-namely those from German carmakers who were presenting them thru gritted teeth-but the truth of the matter is that Europeans are wedded to diesel engines to the extent that they can now be found under the hoods of every other car leaving the new car showrooms. While they accounted for 14.6%, or 1.9 million units, sold in Western Europe in 1991, this year they will account for over 50%, or 6.4 million units.

Quite a few automakers were caught short by this sudden surge of interest in diesel engines, which led to massive investment programs by most of them just to play catch-up. One such was Ford. In 2000, for example, diesel-powered models accounted for just 11% of its new car sales in the UK, a country that lagged behind mainland Europe in its enthusiasm for the engine. In 2001 its diesel share crept up to 13%, then to 18.5% in 2002, and then to 27% by 2004, more or less in line with the country's diesel/gasoline mix.

The only way the Blue Oval could catch up with market demand was to enter an agreement-not a joint venture-with PSA Peugeot Citroen, an acknowledged leader in this area, to develop future generations of diesel engines. While the French group became responsible for the small, in-line 4-cylinder engines up to around 2 liters, Ford headed up work on the larger V-engines that were bound for larger vehicles like the Jaguars, Land Rovers and the larger Citroens and Peugeots.

"There have been a number of improve-ments in the modern diesel engine in the last few years," says Phil Lake, chief engineer, Diesel Engineering, at Ford. "These include the common-rail injection system that precisely controls the amount of fuel in each cylinder, providing lower emissions, higher performance and improved refinement. Recent improvements in turbocharging technology have also provided higher performance and allowed smaller, cleaner and more efficient engines while we are going to see diesel particulate filters play an increasingly important role in future diesel engines. All these technologies have given diesels a new lease on life."

In order to capitalize on this popularity, though, Ford needed a technology and manufacturing base, which is where its site in Dagenham, on the banks of the River Thames to the east of London, came into play. Very much a part of Ford's heritage in the UK, the original 294 acres at this site were purchased in 1924, and the original plant was closely modeled on Ford's Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan. With the new Millennium, though, things changed. Firstly, there was enormous over-capacity in Europe, especially by Ford, which was experiencing a decreasing market share, and as a manufacturing center Dagenham was costly and in the wrong place, leaving Ford with little option but to halt vehicle assembly in 2002. However, the automaker did not turn its back on the site and a year later announced that Dagenham was to become its center of excellence for diesel engines. Following a $500+ million investment in diesel engineering and manufacturing, the Dagenham Diesel Center (DDC) was opened by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2003, with the first product going down the line being the 2.7 liter V6 engine for the Jaguar S-Type and Land Rover Discovery 3.

DDC is the first major new building on the Dagenham estate for more than 30 years and, with contemporary design and workplace layout, has what Ford claims is industry-leading integration of both office space and production areas. It covers an area of 44,530-m2 (equivalent to seven soccer pitches). There are cross-functional business groups-combining design and production engineers with the manufacturing teams, purchase and quality control operations and support staff-all under one roof.

At its heart, and taking up most of the floor space, is the engine assembly area-the Clean Room Assembly Hall-which features an advanced induction and extraction system to minimize airborne dust particles that could interfere with the build of the sophisticated diesel engines being assembled. This clean assembly approach supports the precision process demanded by a new generation of high-pressure common-rail fuel and turbocharging systems featured on the latest diesel engines. The positive pressure enclosed building has controlled access points and "air locked" entrances, a fully filtered and temperature-controlled ventilation system and an integrated monitoring system, checking air continuously to ensure it meets the highest standards. It functions alongside the existing Dagenham Engine Plant, which continues to produce Ford's current diesel family of 1.8 and 2.0 liter Duratorq engines available in the Focus and Mondeo cars and in the Transit Connect and Transit light commercial vehicles. Last year, the site acquired a unique status in being Ford's only wind-powered plant in the world with the installation of two turbines.

The importance of Dagenham to Ford was clearly illustrated this past October with the announcement by Ford and PSA Peugeot Citroen of the fourth phase of their diesel engine co-operation. The companies announced the development of two new engines, one for light commercial vehicles and the other for medium/large executive cars; the joint investment is said to be worth around $400 million. Both advanced common-rail diesel engines feature a number of technical innovations. The engine being developed by Ford for light and medium commercial vehicles features smart technology which allows its "brain" to adjust itself constantly for maximum efficiency during the life of the engine. The diesel engine being developed by PSA Peugeot Citroen features a new Extreme Conventional Combustion System (ECCS), which reduces emissions at source while improving performance and running noise.

Ford is responsible for developing a dedicated 2.2-liter commercial diesel engine optimized for durability and ruggedness for the ubiquitous Ford Transit, a popular light commercial vehicle in Europe, and for PSA Peugeot Citroen's upper range LCVs such as the Boxer and Relay. Van sales play a crucial role in both companies' sales success in Europe and both clearly understand the importance of having a state-of-the-art commercial vehicle diesel engine which has not been derived from a car unit. The new engine will be produced by Ford in Dagenham at the rate of up to 200,000 units a year. Meanwhile PSA Peugeot Citroen will produce a premium 2.2-liter, high output passenger car engine at Trémery in France for both com-panies' medium/large and executive models at the rate of up to 200,000 units a year.

At the end of September, 2005, Ford CEO Bill Ford stated that he wanted to increase the range and variety of Ford hybrid cars on the market. Whether or not this happens, the people at Dagenham are crossing fingers that the future is diesel, at least in Europe. 

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