Dec 17, 2008

Ford Promises Big Slim-Down with Next-Gen Platforms

DEARBORN, MI - Already talking big about the efficiency gains projected from its new downsized engines and six-speed automatic transmissions, Ford Motor Co. will engage a full-scale war against weight in its next product-development-led gambit to become the green-focused car company executives believe Ford must become to reemerge as a success in the U.S. and global auto markets.

The big cut in ever-bloating vehicle weight will come as Ford phases in the next-generation platforms for its product range, says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development.

"In our next-generation vehicles, we're going to go after weight in a big way," Kuzak told AutoObserver at a media event here.

In late 2007, Ford pledged with its "Blueprint For Sustainability" to cut vehicle weight by 250-750 pounds from 2012 to 2020. That kind of lightening-up is a heavy burden when about the best that can be claimed today is that a redesigned or heavily revised model at least hasn't added any weight.

Kuzak says that's because Ford currently is working its way through a "top-hat strategy" that has sees most of the company's new or coming vehicles based on an existing architecture that has not been weight-optimized. But when those existing vehicle platforms are replaced, Kuzak is promising serious weight reductions.

"You really go after weight when you start replacing platforms," Kuzak said.

Many of those platforms will be smaller - and originate in Europe, where fuel prices are always exorbitant, making attention to weight an omnipresent design factor.

Mark Fields, Ford's President of the Americas, said earlier this year that a high proportion of Ford's North American product offerings will be borrowed from its European operations. He said that by 2010, many Ford vehicles sold in the U.S. will share underpinnings with Ford of Europe models; by 2013, all will be shared. Currently, none are shared.

And weight reduction baked into new platforms will more easily pay dividends across numerous model ranges, as Ford eventually will cut back to nine global platforms from today's 25.

Kuzak also said the mid-term weight reductions will be enabled by a wide-ranging move to downsized engines with their output boosted by turbocharging. He said downsized engines deliver an obvious primary weight savings, but also generate tertiary reductions because many other components, such as suspension pieces, also can be reduced in size and weight once the engine is made lighter.

"It's all very synergistic," Kuzak said. "Once you get rolling, you'd be surprised."

Photo by Ford

Fiesta is one of several Europe-developed models Ford will deploy in the U.S. that use smaller engines and lighter platforms to help achieve ambitious sustainability goals.