Follow the Hybrid Road
Ford Motor Company joins the hybrid revolution with the first American-built full-hybrid SUV.
There’s something strangely fitting about using Sony Pictures Studios’ Stage 9 to hold the technical portion of the first Hybrid Ford Escape ride-and-drive. Phil Martens, group vice president, Product Creation, mentioned in his presentation that this is the same studio (previously MGM) where the Wizard of Oz was filmed.
|Ford Escape Hybrids are gridded up at Sony Studios awaiting their first on-road workout at the hands of the media. |
And though there weren’t any wicked witches to battle, Ford is still trying to pour water on the hot topic of who’s parts are actually behind that curtain, or under the hood, as it may be, of the Escape Hybrid.
Ford continues to deny that there are any actual Toyota parts among the 351 patents that make up the hybrid drivetrain (Ford owns 100 of them), but they do share some of the same technologies, similar enough that Ford felt compelled to pony up the license fees on 21 Toyota patents to quash any possible patent infringement suits.
For example, the Aisin-supplied transaxle is identical in concept to the Prius, though components are rearranged for packaging purposes. The unit has also been nearly doubled in size to achieve the necessary power and electrical capacity needed for the larger SUV.
Ford also admits to the trading of patents on some technologies (Ford reportedly swapped gas-injection technology for the electric- only reverse drive option of the Prius). Similar parts aside, it’s the algorithms that tell the components what to do and when and this is where Ford has given Escape a brain and a heart of its own.
While Prius is still aimed squarely at the environmentally- conscious, Ford’s ‘No Compromise’ approach to Escape (V-6 power /4-cylinder mileage), creates a vehicle that’s as much about SUV performance as fuel-sipping economy.
From the driver’s seat, the Hybrid Escape doesn’t differ much from the non-hybrid Escape. The only visual cues are housed in the IP. To the left is a charge and assist gauge that tells you whether you’re charging the battery or using it and the tachometer has a small electric motor icon, below the zero, where the needle drops to when the engine is off and the vehicle is running on electric only.
Buyers who opt for the navigation system get a graphic diagram showing the gas engine, motor and battery inside an outline of a truck with arrows depicting the flow of energy to and from the components. Vehicles without the navigation system have bar graphs that monitor the same functions.
|Don’t try this in your Prius. The 4WD Escape Hybrid tackles the horse trails at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, Calif.|
Unlike the Prius, which requires a special set of steps to turn the car on, the Escape starts like a regular vehicle. Turn the key and the gas engine purrs to life — press the brake, put it in drive and press the accelerator.
Prius drivers press their accelerator and the vehicle launches in electric mode with the engine coming on around 20 mph. The Escape will launch in electric mode as well, but only if you’re very, very light on the throttle.
In a normal take-off, both electric motor and gas engine are working together to create that ‘no-compromise V-6 acceleration’ that Ford has dialed into the truck. At a cruising speed of up to 30 mph, the engine will shut off and the vehicle will run on electric only. A click over 30 brings the engine back to life.
The first leg of our trip back from OZ took us not down any yellow brick roads, but consisted of a mileage competition on a five-mile loop around Sony Studios. We managed to log 44.7 mpg in our Four-Wheel-Drive Escape by creeping away from stoplights and keeping the vehicle under 30mph, far from what I would consider a normal driving pattern and an annoyance to the commuters on busy Venice Blvd.
Though official EPA testing hasn’t been done, Ford is estimating mileage at 35 to 40 city and 30 highway.
From there, we took off at a normal pace for the Calamigos Ranch near Malibu for some offroading. Our ‘no-compromise’ SUV enjoyed the stop-and-go cruise through the heart of Hollywood, the type of driving that hybrid’s are designed for, but didn’t care much for the long stretches of highway driving as we headed up into the mountains.
The 133 hp, Atkinson cycle 2.3L aluminum DOHC, 16-valve 4-cylinder and electric motor were working hard to pull the small truck up the mountain. And though the eCVT transmission is designed to let the gas engine perform at its most efficient, the engine and CVT seemed to be unable to find that ‘sweet spot,’ the engine wailing at plus 4,000 rpm, the electric motor draining the battery and the mileage readout at 22 mpg. The powertrain seemed to lack a strong top end in city driving as well when it was pushed.
|The only visible interior differences between the hybrid and nonhybrid Escape are on the IP. The small gauge at left monitors battery charge, the icon below zero on the tach lets you know when the gas engine is in idle-off mode and the small one to the far right doesn’t get to ‘E’ as fast. |
In the world of hybrids, the Escape really showed its courage on the off-road trails at Calamigos. Going where Prius fears to tread, the small, agile SUV easily climbed up and down the rutted dirt horse trails, while the hybrid drivetrain didn’t miss a beat.
The Escape SUV benefits from Ford’s intelligent four-wheel-drive system, which was the option on the vehicle we drove. The fully-automatic system requires no input from the driver and uses a computer-controlled clutch that engages the rear wheels as needed. Using sensors at each wheel and a throttle sensor, the system sends the exact amount of necessary torque to each wheel, making calculations at the rate of 200 times per second.
The Escape’s hybrid drivetrain was designed to fit in the same packaging space as the optional V-6 allowing the hybrid to be built on the same line at Kansas City Assembly in Clycomo, Mo., along with the Mazda Tribute, which is based on the Escape platform.
The system will show up in the Mercury Mariner (an Escape clone) in 2007 and some time later in the new Ford mid-size sedan. The 200-lb. Sanyo battery is shaped like the load floor and takes up no extra space though with the battery and powertrain components the hybrid weighs 366 lb. more than a V-6- powered Escape.
Maryann Wright, head of Ford’s Sustainable Mobility Technology and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, says the battery has been tested in extreme conditions, though heat is more of a problem than cold.
|Hybrid powertrain is designed to slip right into the body-in-white in the same space that’s taken up by the V-6 powertrain. |
The batteries were subjected to four straight months of temperatures above 100 degrees and started right up. To help keep the batteries at optimum temperatures, the hybrid is equipped with a thermal management system that includes an electric heater and forcedair cooling system that draws air in through vents in the rear quarter windows.
The hybrid truck is equipped with electric power-assisted steering as a traditional beltdriven hydraulic system wouldn’t work while the engine was shut down at idle.
The Hybrid Escape will be available later this summer, nearly a year after the initial release date of the fall of 2003. Wright told AI at the New York Auto Show that there was no delay.
“We were always on track for retail production this summer (2004).”
She says that the press misunderstood Ford’s intentions and that a fleet of 30 demonstration vehicles was slated to be on the road in the fall of ’03. Wright says that the decision was made to keep those vehicles in-house, keeping engineers focused on the vehicles and not have them spread out all over the country. Plans are to sell 20,000 units per year.
Martens says that Ford has had 500,000 hits on the Escape hybrid web site since its launch. “21,000 are hand raisers,” he adds, “and 20 percent of those do not own a Ford.” Martens says that he expects demand to far outstrip supply.
|The Sanyo-supplied battery uses 500 D-cells and is shaped like the Escape’s load floor. Note the fan motor on the bottom that’s directed by the battery controller to keep the batteries at optimum temperature. |
Several established hybrid internet groups are already clamoring about the Escape Hybrid and some are launching sites specific to the Escape.
Pricing won’t be announced until later this summer, but Martens has said that it will be comparable with the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyta Prius, both of which carry a $3,500 premium.
Ford admits that they are subsidizing the hybrid Escape but won’t reveal how much they’re losing per vehicle, only saying that the Escape platform as a whole (hybrid and nonhybrid) will be profitable.
|Escape Hybrid Suppliers|
|Software Pi Technology|
|Power Converters TDK|
|Electric Power Steering |
|Power Electronics |
Escape Hybrid Specifications
|Hybrid System Net hp|
|Gasoline engine |
|Aluminum DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle I-4|
|3.44 x 3.70 in.|
|138 cu. In. (2.3L)|
|Compression Ratio |
|Sequential multiport electronic Valvetrain Direct-acting mechanical bucket|
|133 hp at 6,000 rpm|
|129 lb. ft. at 4,500 rpm|
|Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions |
|Permanent magnet AC synchronous motor |
|94 hp at 3,000-5,000 rpm|
|Electronically controlled continuously variable (eCVT)|
|Maximum towing capacity|
|1,000 lb. (when properly equipped)|
Note: the V-6 Ford Escape can tow 3,500 lb.