The Future of Affordable EVs According to John Viera | Sustainable Brands 2013


Photo courtesy of Sustainable Brands
Photo courtesy of Sustainable Brands

At Sustainable Brands 2013, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ford’s Global Director of Sustainability, John Viera. He promised me free charging (at my friend’s homes!), and a race van that can corner like a sports car. OK, maybe I misinterpreted some things. Judge for yourself:

Your website leads with the more efficient cars in your product lineup, including the Fusion which won Green Car of the Year at last year’s LA Auto Show. Is that because the SUV’s which have previously dominated the market are finally being eschewed by customers wanting to save money on gas?

It’s a couple of things. In the past, small cars lacked the creature comforts and features our larger cars had. People wanted fuel efficiency, so we had to transform our thinking in terms of what makes a small car attractive. So now we’re including a lot of the luxury features in the smaller cars as well.

I saw that with the car I’m interested in, the Transit Connect. You have the Torque Vectoring Control previously not offered on a utility van. I suspect this would make the twisty roads leading to the race track a lot more fun. OK, so it has eco-boost, but why not hybrid? I know it’s really hard to do an efficient hybrid on a larger vehicle, but how eco is eco-boost really?

Yes, you’re right about it being harder to justify a hybrid on a large vehicle. We’ve found that the larger vehicles have higher torque demands, that you just can’t get from a hybrid, but you can from an eco-boost motor. The electric motor has a tremendous amount of torque, but when fully loaded the batteries would have to work overtime to match the towing capacity of a gas motor. However, we are thoroughly researching hybrids for larger vehicles. We’re also working with Toyota to jointly develop a technology for full-size hybrids for our pickup trucks and such.

Yes, many people do want larger vehicles. Not just for status, but I’ve met drivers in Los Angeles who bought SUV’s because they couldn’t see around all the SUV’s in LA! So it will be great to have more efficient SUV’s.

The future of sustainable transportation isn’t just one technology. But which do you think will dominate Ford’s vehicle lineup in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 

I think the movement toward electrification is going to dominate. We define electrification as not only pure battery electric vehicles, but also plug-in hybrids and hybrids. There’s a lot of component commonality among them all, so the more hybrids we sell, the cheaper it’s going to be for us to make pure electrics. So there will come a day when most vehicles on the road are hybrids, and then 20-30 years from now when fossil fuels are impractical we’ll see electric vehicles dominating the market. We see hydrogen in the mix as well, although it’s a ways off. It has more range than a Lithium Ion battery, even though it has its drawbacks.

So the range on a fuel cell car would be greater than that of a Tesla?

Well, you could always put more batteries on there to get more range. The Tesla Model S has twice as much battery capacity as our Focus Electric, and comes at about twice the price.

So how close are you to offering a pure-electric car with the range Tesla offers?

Our Focus battery electric offers 80 mile range. Sure, the Tesla is 200 miles, but at a higher cost.

But that’s the real game-changer, the battery. Are you working with anyone on developing the battery that will outlast what’s currently available from Lithium Ion?

People often ask me how cheap the LiIon battery can get, how much more range it can get. I think the breakthrough will come from something that’s not Lithium Ion. We work closely with MIT, Stanford, Michigan and Georgia Tech, on developing some chemistry or technology that’s a step-change improvement over LiIon.

How integrated will Ford be in peoples’ lives going forward?

We’re planning to be more integrated. Our vehicles will be more part of a lifestyle, not just a mode of transportation. Here at Sustainable Brands, we’re on stage with Whirlpool, talking about the smart grid system, My Energy Lifestyle, where your EV’s battery could indeed power your refrigerator and more in an emergency. We also want to teach customers how they can optimize charging to do it most efficiently and cheaply.

It’s funny that you partner with Whirlpool, because when I was trying to figure out which circuit to plug my electric motorcycle into, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t overload a 20A fuse. In that process I noticed the clothes dryer has 6amps, which is about what my Zero has at 5amps.

Where do you see turbochargers fitting into a sustainable product offering? 

We’re using them today to boost and downsize our engines. We call our turbo boost engines “Eco Boost” which enables us to provide more power from a smaller displacement engine.

That’s awesome, I had no idea it was something as cool as turbo. I thought it was just some dorky thing that makes the car less fun. You should also call it turbo for the speed freaks like me who want something more powerful.

That’s a good point!

At the LA Auto Show, my inner 16 year-old boy (at my core, I’m just a teenage boy) watched Ken Block drift that Fiesta and totally wanted one too. So what is Ford doing about the fact that so many young Americans don’t seem too interested in owning cars?

We have seen teens losing interest in cars, but these kids grow up. Once they get to that age where they need to commute to work, take their own kids to school, etc. they find a practical need, especially in cities without viable public transit.

What about megacities like New York and even now Los Angeles where cars are actually a burden, and bicycling infrastructure is growing?

While we are moving away from fossil fuel based vehicles, the population is also growing. So even if we’re all in electric cars, if there’s twice as many of us, we’re all stuck in traffic. Sure, the air quality would be better but the quality of life would be worse. So the other area of sustainability we look at is the future of mobility in a much more crowded world, with more megacities, and people’s disposable incomes being different.

We want to help city planners to develop a system where people can drive to a convenient spot to catch a train into the city. Then how can we, as an automaker have real-time information for the drivers, so they know when the next train or bus will arrive. Those are they types of solutions we need to have going forward, we need to move beyond just making more cars and trucks.

I want to thank John again for sitting down to talk with me about Ford’s sustainable future.

About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it’s only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles’ streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she’s converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.

  • UncleB

    Chreos? hub mounted motors? COE pickup trucks? Shifting away from the 20th Century?

    • susannaschick

      I’m sorry I didn’t adress any of those. All of what you’re saying except “hub-mounted motors” is foreign to me. 🙂 Please explain what these are and I will ask John about them. By helping Universities develop batteries, and working with Toyota on a full-size Hybrid worth calling “Hybrid”, I’d say they’re firmly planted in the 21st century, even if they’re not as far along as Nissan or Toyota.

      • UncleB

        Chreos simplex is a Google – an electric sedan (possibly Chinese electronics, batteries, computers, inside) a glimpse at the future of electric cars.
        COE utility trucks (Cab Over Engine) common in Asia yield at least 1/3 more useable space over the U.S. conventional cab styles, making better economic sense for commercial applications. America and Americans, Canadians too, are rightfully very comfortable living in the remnants of their “Golden Age” once supported by the “Cheap Oil Era” and the ‘Sole Super Power Status’ days. We enter a new age where China is evolving, the oil is no longer plentiful and China is the “other” huge, rich, customer for it. We enter and age where the new Chinese intelligentsia, magnitudes larger than ours, challenges us and yields even a Thorium LFTR styled reactor(see YouTube revelations, Chinese Thorium Reactors one is very clear the other kind of dodgy) – once upon a time our domain with no other competition.
        Since 1960 when computers were introduced commercially, automation has morphed the upper lower class and lower middle class job markets into barren, salted fields, leaving the large bodied well muscled Great Hulking American Neanderthals, bred of the best European and African stocks for these jobs and the ‘Smoke Stack Era” jobs, lost to the soup kitchens, on bread lines and without even enough medical care for survival. This is part of the “Shifting”. Another part: the Nixon Shock of 1977 – the day Democratic Capitalism was replaced by ‘The Corpocracy’ in America, and the Proud Eagle was supplanted by and oil hungry vulture.
        The new challenges for the peons of America are different than their 20th Century schools prepared them for, and even the well educated flounder and question? China the new kid on the block rages ever forward and seemingly without reason because of our Amero flavoured – Ivory Tower Judo-Christian lenses?Or are they blinkers? The Great Corporate American Propaganda Whores and their fully controlled media hardly can hide the truth anymore, especially from our unemployables in this land – the big lie is done! And the Electrics will reign supreme by mandate of the Group of Seven that run China and America will follow this time, not lead. The Thorium styled reactors will buy China berth with our allies and our ‘time bomb enriched uranium secrets reactors’ will be but a footnote on the past pages of history and this will transpire at computer speeds – decades or less. Do not blink! You will miss the show! Fact is: simple poor Chinese armed with open source raid our $microstuff pablum software for computing sport! Sell what they learn or just trade it ! I studied with these cool nerds at my college – they masterminded all info in the school with ease and went for large corporations right from the class rooms! They read my work, and because they liked me added references to it, corrected my English, even made suggestions and revealed astounding mental capabilities. America today: truly challenged as never before and must swallow hard on their sense of “Entitlement”, must morph into its gigantic ego or face defeat – not on the military battlefield but in education, Science, Physics Chemistry, Mathematics, Languages, Finance and much much more! Currently China holds a “controlling interest in All U.S. ‘paper money’! China has a positive GDP a growing population an expansionary plan, a “population bomb” yet realized by the West, and bigger, better, more modernized industrial and manufacturing base than the U.S.A. We must move quickly into the 21st Century or forfeit it to the New Pan Eurasian Reality!

        • susannaschick

          well, I’ll be sure to ask them about that week after next while I’m in the neighborhood. 😉 coming up- “Further with Ford” event coverage. Live, of course.

  • Pingback: The Changing Price Of Electric Cars - Gas 2()

  • Pingback: The Electric Car Battery Price Slide (Chart) | CleanTechnica()

  • Pingback: ARPA-E Banishes Range Anxiety With New EV Battery Initiative()