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USA: Ford pools electric vehicle, hybrid research as fuel prices jump

DETROIT (REUTERS) – Ford Motor is devoting one of its largest research laboratories to the development of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) as part of a focus on fuel-efficiency that has been a centerpiece of its revival since late 2006.

This year, the No. 2 United States (US) automaker will offer nine vehicles that can get more than 17 kilometres a litre (kml). This includes its first all-electric passenger car, the 2012 Focus Electric, and the 2013 Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid sedan.

The red-brick 285,000 square-foot advanced engineering centre in Dearborn, Michigan, will be the centre of Ford’s efforts to develop fuel-efficiency technology.

Ten years ago, Ford surveys showed that consumers were rejecting the brand because of its poor fuel economy, said Mr Raj Nair, who will be head of Ford global product development on April 1.

‘Now people are coming to us because we do have superior fuel economy to the majority of our competitors, and that’s going to be the heart of our strategy going forward,’ said Mr Nair, who is now the global head of engineering.

US regulators and automakers have said fuel-efficiency and emissions standards will grow stricter over the next decade.

That coupled with higher fuel prices have prompted automakers to experiment with hybrid and electric vehicle technology.

Ford, which ranks behind General Motors (GM), is centralising development of these vehicles at a time of increasing doubts about the affordability and effectiveness of electric cars. At the same time, engineering tweaks to a traditional internal combustion engine have helped automakers wring out more kilometres a litre.

The Focus electric car gets the equivalent of 45kml, while Ford projects that the Energi can get the equivalent of 43kml in electric mode. The company said it would also sell three petrol-powered 2013 Fusion models and a hybrid that can get 20kml.

Ford will also offer EcoBoost engine technology in 11 of its vehicles this year, up from seven in 2011. Ford says EcoBoost can boost fuel economy by up to 20 per cent.
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