Traditional wisdom holds that Americans prefer big, powerful vehicles, but Ford is betting big on small. The company that makes the best-selling F-150 pickup truck is counting on smaller vehicles and smaller engines among ways to stay competitive on fuel efficiency.
On Ford's Power of Choice tour, representatives from the company pointed to a rise in small cars sales and feedback from consumers as evidence that drivers want more fuel efficient vehicles. Ford described its strategy for meeting these needs, which includes hybrid and electric vehicles as well as gas-powered ones using Ford's EcoBoost engine. The company showed off examples of fuel-efficient current and upcoming models.
The big F-150 in fact already leads its class for fuel economy thanks to an EcoBoost six-cylinder powerplant. These engines typically have a smaller displacement than the ones they replace but use turbocharging and direct injection to achieve similar performance and up to twenty percent better fuel economy.
Ford showed an EcoBoost-powered Explorer rated at 28mpg highway, a superlative among full-size SUVs. The 2-liter, 4-cylinder motor does not move the big, 3-row SUV with great haste, but performance is acceptable in normal driving and the efficiency advantage over competitors is significant.
Electrification is another component of Ford's efficiency strategy. The company includes gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and fully-electric vehicles (EVs) among the alternatives they offer now or plan to sell soon.
The Fusion Hybrid, another car contributing to Ford's total of fourteen with class-leading fuel economy, was on hand, as were two EVs, the Transit Connect Electric and the Focus Electric. The Transit EV, a commercial van, proved quick and quiet in a brief test drive, well suited to urban service or delivery duty.
Ford says it also has a new line of hybrids coming next year, including a plug-in. A representative also hinted at a probable third EV.
All of this downsizing may sound risky for a company with so much of its reputation tied to trucks and SUVs. But Ford named the event "Power of Choice" because drivers will ultimately determine which vehicles and power options are right for them. Ford is building vehicles that meet efficiency demands without eliminating more traditional - and traditionally-powered - cars and trucks. As with the F-150, only time will reveal the models drivers like best.