Around 2000, the Ford Motor Company decided to commit to alt-fuels. At the time, the company had only 10 patents that it classified as hybrid technology. Things slowly began to change as Ford began investing into the development of the Escape Hybrid. Still, by 2002 Ford only had about 30 hybrid patents.
In 2005, Ford finally introduced the Hybrid-Electric Escape. With it, Ford was third to market with a hybrid electric vehicle, and the first company to bring a hybrid SUV to market. It was also the first hybrid electric vehicle with a flexible-fuel capability, allowing it to run on E85. Flush with this accomplishment, Ford rather hastily announced its goal to make 250,000 hybrids a year by 2010.
It didn’t happen.
By mid-2006 Ford announced that it would not meet that goal. The failure was blamed on excessively high costs and a lack of sufficient supplies of the hybrid-electric batteries and drivetrain system components. Not all progress stopped for Ford, however. The Escape’s platform mate Mercury Mariner was released with the hybrid-electric system in the 2006 model year—a full year ahead of schedule. Ford also launched its One Ford strategy designed to accelerate development of new products with a more efficient method of innovation sprang forth.
Things now seem to be paying off for the Michigan-based automaker. Today, Ford has around 500 hybrid patents and the company has transformed its lineup, one-third of which will feature a model with that gets at least 40 mpg in 2012, and they it’s on the verge of launching the all-electric Focus and a plug-in hybrid version of its popular Fusion sedan called the Energi (pictured above).
According to Ford engineer Ming Kuang, whose name is on 40 Ford patents, Ford’s turnaround came because the company kept its commitment to new gasoline alternatives, even through the economic downturn. Now, he says, the entire company is focused on making these vehicles a success. “We stopped trying to create and fix one-off, niche vehicles,” said Kuang. “And it made all the difference in the world.”
In the last three years alone, the number of inventions submitted to Ford’s legal team to be considered for patents has increased more than 25 percent.
Eric Kuehn, Ford’s chief engineer on its global electrified team, said that level of innovation makes him happy to be part of team working on new, energy efficient vehicles. “One of the best parts of being involved with Ford’s electrified vehicle group is that they are never satisfied,” said Kuehn. “They are always striving to be better, to turn over that next rock and see how far they can go toward creating even larger gaps between Ford and its competitors. That is engrained in the culture and mindset of the team here and isn’t going to change anytime soon.”