On the Road in 2020

F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society
January 2002



Previous Newsletters

this issue

Contact the Editors

On the road in 2020, a Customer's View

Vince Fazio

This paper discusses some of the challenges to getting high-mileage and environmentally clean vehicles on the road, and progress being made by Ford Motor Company in this area. It is based on a presentation given in October 2000 (but updated in Nov 2001) by Vince Fazio, Ford's Director (now retired) for the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, at the MIT Energy Laboratory in response to the paper "On the Road in 2020, a life-cycle analysis of new automobile technologies."

Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) was established on September 29, 1993. It draws on the resources of seven federal agencies, the national laboratories, universities, suppliers, and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), a cooperative, pre-competitive research effort among DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation.

  1. The PNGV goals are to collaboratively conduct long-range, high-risk research on technologies that will result in breakthrough improvements in fuel efficiency for passenger vehicles. To retain customer acceptance and hence high-volume market penetration, safety, emissions, and consumer expectations must be met. Research will be on technologies that are pre-competitive and will combine the manufacturing capabilities and technical expertise of the auto industry with the advanced research talent of the national laboratories.

Collaborative research on new high-risk technologies benefits society, the industry, and the individual automakers by lowering their costs, sharing the risks, and shortening the time it takes to bring new technologies to market. The partners have been working together despite their competitive nature and have already begun to reap the benefits of this collaboration.

PNGV is already a success as many technologies have been put to use in production vehicles. For example, there are over 410 pounds of aluminum in the Lincoln LS, yielding great weight savings over steel. PNGV advances in powertrain technology will be entering the market soon, with a hybrid-electric version of the Ford Escape compact SUV scheduled for production in the 2003 calendar year. A fuel cell powered version of the Focus, the world's best selling car, will debut in 2004.

In January 2000 Ford met its target of demonstrating a proof-of-concept prototype vehicle with the debut of the Prodigy hybrid electric sedan. Prodigy demonstrates that the technology exists today to significantly improve fuel economy and still meet emissions requirements. Many of the technologies are currently in production and others are planned. However, great advances are still needed before the affordability targets can be met for the other design approaches.

As these projects have progressed, the PNGV is becoming a process for technology development rather than simply a set of one-time goals.

Environmental Effectiveness

A good indicator of the industry's improvement is total fuel consumed. It is a function of both the fuel economy of the vehicle and total distance traveled. Additionally, fuel consumption shows the effect of vehicles on the United States' goal of energy independence. Most of the petroleum used in producing automotive fuel for the United States is imported. Decreasing automotive fuel consumption makes a positive impact toward the nation's dependence on foreign oil. But significantly lowering overall fuel consumption is more complicated than simply improving the fuel efficiency of every car on the road.

Harmonic Average and Diminishing Returns

One of the keys to understanding the environmental effectiveness of advanced technology application is the principle of harmonic averages. Put simply, it is more beneficial to make modest improvements in the worst performing vehicles than to make the same improvements only in the vehicles that already do well. For example, consider a fleet consisting of two vehicles. One travels ten miles per gallon of gasoline, the other twenty. If both vehicles are driven 10 000 miles, they will use a combined 1500 gallons of fuel. This gives an average mileage of 13.3 miles per gallon (Figure 1), not the 15 that might be expected at first glance. Two cars with a mileage of 15 mpg would, in fact, require only 1333 gallons to cover the same distance (Figure 2).


Now let's take the original example and improve the fuel economy of just one vehicle at a time.

As Figure 3 shows, which car we choose to improve has a profound impact on how effective that improvement is. Improving the first car by 10 mpg gives a lower total fuel consumption (1000 gal) than the same 10 mpg improvement applied to the second one (1333 gal). From this we can see that the better a vehicle already is, the less the payback for improving it further.


For advanced technology vehicles to help improve the environment, they have to be driven in place of traditional vehicles and in high volumes. A few thousand expensive vehicles that get 80 mpg have an insignificant effect on the nation's car fleet. The key to getting high sales volume isn't simply manufacturing capacity. Customers must want to buy these vehicles because they have value. Also, manufacturers must make a profit, and thus want to produce them.

Customer Requirements

One key to customers accepting these vehicles is that the changes must be transparent, e.g., the new vehicles maintain comparable performance, utility, safety, and cost of ownership to the baseline vehicle. Although most consumers say that they want to improve the environment, they are unwilling to make many personal sacrifices for a public benefit. This is a global issue: even in Germany, where gas is far more expensive than in the U.S., a recent study revealed 98% of drivers agreed people should drive less, but 80% said they didn't intend to drive any less themselves. The success of the automobile industry in the U.S. depends on the fact that American consumers want personal mobility. They want their car to take them where they want to go, whenever they want, quickly and inexpensively. The vast majority will not accept being inconvenienced by a battery that needs charging overnight, an exotic fuel that they must drive farther to get, or a car that only goes 100 miles before refueling. They also will not pay substantially extra just to help the environment. The purchase decision must be economically attractive. Any increase in purchase price must pay back in fuel savings and other benefits.


Another key to customers accepting advanced technology vehicles is the cost. This is also a major concern for the manufacturers, who must be able not only to sell the vehicles at a price the consumers will pay, but also to develop the technology and manufacture the vehicles affordably.

Table 1: Annual gallons and dollars saved at Fuel Economy Multiples

				Improvement in fuel economy over base vehicle
				    (gallons saved/ $US saved, per year
Vehicle Class    Today's F.E.		1.5 x        2.0 x        3.0 x
Compact car	     40		     125/$188      188/$282     250/$375
Midsize car         27.5             182/$273      273/$410     364/$546
SUV		    20.5             244/$366      366/$549     488/$732
(based on 15,000 miles/year, $1.50 per gallon gasoline
Table 1 is a comparison of the customer's savings in fuel and fuel cost associated with incremental improvements of the mileage in various classes of vehicles. As you can see, the mileage of a mid size car has to nearly double to equal the savings of a 1.5x increase in an SUV, and that of a compact car has to triple. Additionally, the savings from the first increase, from base to 1.5x, in any sized car, are twice the additional savings in going from 1.5x to 2x.

With the current state of technology, the cost premium for doubling mileage would be in the $3000-$8000 range, well above the savings realized through fuel efficiency. Figure 4 clearly shows why these savings aren't enough. With the current trend of customers leasing vehicles, it is only the first few years that should be considered in calculating savings. After the two years over which the typical customer wants to break even, the savings realized by doubling the vehicle's fuel efficiency are only $820. It will take nearly eight years for the savings to offset the premium, and that's assuming the minimum cost.


In terms of overall environmental impact, a lot of progress has already been made with conventional approaches, and today's vehicles are inherently cleaner than those of a few years ago. A model year 2000 Ford Taurus driven the equivalent of two Boston Marathons™ gives off fewer emissions than a similar 1970 model sitting all day in the sun with its engine off. As another example, it would take 50 of Ford's European sub-compact car, the Ka, to produce the same emissions as one 1976 Ford Fiesta. Figure 5 illustrates the changes over time of allowable

hydrocarbon emissions. Again, this shows that the incremental benefits decrease with incremental improvements in the standards. Additionally, the hardware required to achieve these improved emissions levels actually decreases fuel economy.


The challenge of making high mileage, low emission vehicles is not simply one of components, but of systems. Fuel is an integral part of the system, whether the vehicle uses it in an engine or a fuel cell. Only by recognizing and understanding this relationship can we make real advances.

While efficient combustion is obviously the first step to clean burning engines, clean fuel is also important. Impurities in the fuel will either leave the tailpipe as emissions or stay in the vehicle and degrade operation of the whole system. Sulfur, for example, binds to sites in the catalyst that otherwise would assist in NOx, hydrocarbon, and CO reduction. The EPA's Tier 2 emissions standards place the major focus on NOx emissions in driving all of the pollutants to lower and lower levels. Tier 2 requires the average vehicle to achieve emissions standards of 0.07g/mi NOx and 0.01g/mi particulate matter (PM) starting in 2004, far less than today's 0.4 g/mi NOx and 0.04 g/mi PM. To achieve Tier 2 levels will require 90 percent catalytic efficiency, an 81 percent improvement, which is virtually impossible with the sulfur content in today's fuel. Figure 6 shows that to achieve the 81 percent improvement required, gasoline sulfur content must be reduced beyond the 30 ppm average currently mandated by the EPA beginning in 2005.

Like improving the operation of vehicles, getting clean fuel isn't just a matter of the government mandating that it be done. The automotive and fuel industries must work together to find and implement the best solutions toward their common goals of improving the environmental impact of their products while maintaining affordability.

Ford's Voluntary Leadership

Ford Motor Company has been voluntarily working for many years to improve the environmental impact of its vehicles. As of the 2000 model year, all Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury light trucks, SUVs, and minivans are certified as Low Emission Vehicles (LEV). Ford has also committed to a 25 percent improvement in the fuel economy in its SUV fleet by 2005. This is over and above the levels currently required by CAFÉ Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards, which mandate average minimum miles per gallon for the fleet of automobiles and trucks sold in America by each manufacturer), because the company recognizes its environmental responsibility for this improvement and does not need government intervention in order to improve. Chairman Bill Ford Jr. explained: "We have three obligations: to provide superior returns to our shareholders; to give customers exactly what they're looking for; and to do it in a way that has the least impact — or the most benefit — for the environment and for society in general. Keeping our eye on all three of those equations is the recipe for future success."

Given the market position of Ford's vehicles, its fleet of LEVs is more environmentally effective than such high mileage vehicles as the Toyota Prius, even if the Prius was selling at full plant capacity. In addition to LEV gasoline vehicles, Ford is also the top seller of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV), offering more alternatives in AFVs than any other automaker (Table 2). The electric Ranger pickup truck is the top selling electric vehicle in the world.

Table 2 U.S. Alternative Fuel Vehicles by Manufacturer for 2002 Model Year

Manufacturer			Fuel			Models
Ford Motor Co.	 		CNG	 	Crown Victoria,bi-fuel-F-150 ordedicated Econoline & F-150
				Propane		Bi-fuel F-150
				Ethanol		Flex-fuel Explorer, Ranger & Taurus
				Electric	Ranger & THINK City
Daimler-Chrysler		CNG		Ram Van, Wagon
				Ethanol		Flex-fuel Chrysler Town & Country, Voyager (& Grand), Caravan (& Grand)
General Motors			CNG		Bi-fuel Cavalier, Express/Savanna, Silverado/Sierra
				Propane		Chevrolet/GM medium duty truck
				Ethanol		Flex-fuel Chevrolet S-10, GMC Sonoma, Tahoe/Yukon, Suburban
Honda				CNG			Civic
				Hybrid Electric 	Insight
Toyota				CNG			Camry
				Hybrid Electric 	Prius
				Electric		RAV-4 EV
*CNG = Compressed Natural Gas

While most AFVs are sold to government and commercial fleets, Ford's consumers can benefit directly from its commitment to environmental vehicles. The newest models of Ford's Taurus, Ranger, and Explorer offer a flex-fuel engine at no cost to the customer. These vehicles are capable of running on E85 ethanol fuel, gasoline, or any mixture of the two. As availability of E85 increases at gas stations across the country, more and more drivers will be able to choose the environmentally friendly fuel.


Great progress has been made in the last 30 years, and will continue into the future. The challenge now is for automakers and policy makers to align affordable solutions with customer wants through a robust approach to ensure high volume usage. The challenge lies with scientists and engineers throughout the US and the globe to develop the technology to provide market-driven solutions.

Misha Hill, writing for Vince Fazio

Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicle

Ford Motor Company

World Headquarters, Dearborn, Michigan

mhill30@ford.com , vincentf@peoplepc.com



Previous Newsletters

this issue

Contact the Editors