The folks at Jalopnik’s truck related site, Truck Yeah, report that Ford has hired a hybrid systems engineer who specializes in rear-wheel drive for its hybrid vehicle team. Which raises the question: which rear wheel drive vehicle is Ford’s hybrid team working on?
To find the answer, let’s identify what rear-wheel drive vehicles Ford currently makes. For cars, the list begins and ends with the 2015 Mustang, the sole rear-drive passenger car in the Blue Oval’s lineup. Other than that, there are trucks like the 2015 Ford F-150 and its larger siblings the F-250 and 350. Finally, SUV’s like the Ford Expedition (and its Lincoln counterpart the Navigator), along with AWD versions of the Escape, Explorer, Edge and Flex are on the list. So which one will be the first Ford with a hybrid drive train? Perhaps the answer is: the type of vehicle that needs the most help raising its fuel economy numbers.
The Mustang seems to be on solid ground here with its new EcoBoost equipped cars capable of 31 mpg on the highway. While not as high as some of us had hoped, it’s definitely “good enough” for the time being. While a hybrid Mustang (especially a plug-in model) could add an extra layer of fuel economy and performance to the pony car, the market for a two-door hybrid sports coupe is rather limited.
The 2015 F-150 has been the focus of an intense campaign to shed weight in search of better fuel economy. Thanks to the extensive use of aluminum, the latest F-150 is 700 lbs lighter than its predecessor. It also gets a pair of EcoBoost engines, including the 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6 that promises to bring unmatched power and fuel efficiency to the F-150. If Ford was still intent on building a hybrid pickup, we’d probably have heard about it by now.
So that leaves the SUV and crossover models, which arguably make the most sense. Why? Because that is where the market is right now. Sales of SUVs are booming across all age groups, particularly among millenials who find they fit their lifestyle better than a sedan or a truck. Yet sedans are stealing all the high MPG headlines. SUVs need to find some MPG magic to catch up with sedans that are regularly rocking 35+ MPG on the highway. So my prediction is that a hybrid version of either the Expedition or Explorer is in the works.
Finally, the Escape, Edge and Flex, which are primarily front wheel drive vehicles, could use electric propulsion for the rear wheels to create AWD models that dispense with bulky driveshafts, transfer cases, differentials and axles, saving weight and boosting mpg at the same time. As it stands, the Ford Fusion Hybrid model is saddled with front-wheel drive though the 2.0 liter EcoBoost-powered Fusion sends motivation to all four wheels. Same with the Flex, Edge, and Escape.
Whoever this new rear-wheel drive hybrid specialist is at Ford is going to be very busy. Which of these possibilities seems most likely to you?