Ford Investigating Plug-In Hybrids: Golightly interview at Green Car Congress
- Ford's Niel Goligthly goes one step further than
Ford Europe VP Lewis Booth in talking about
plug-in hybrids. (For Booth's February comments
If you want to get to the "good parts," skip down
to the last third of the report.
Ford Talks Up Sustainability at LOHAS 2006; Investigating Plug-In Hybrids
29 April 2006
by Jack Rosebro
Escape Hybrid at LOHAS 10.
Yesterday, Ford Motor Companys Niel Golightly,
the automakers director of sustainable business
strategies, presented some of Fords recent
initiatives toward sustainability at the LOHAS 10
(Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) conference in Santa Monica.
Ford is a major sponsor of the event, and several
of Fords Escape hybrids were prominently displayed on the conference grounds.
Asserting his faith in the future, Golightly
said, Some people say that the auto industry
will go the way of the fur coat or cigarette
industries. Im here to tell you that it wont
happen. People need cars. People need mobility.
He acknowledged, however, that automakers,
including Ford, are starting to feel the pull
toward sustainability from many sources, such as
energy costs, customers, and institutional investors.
The day is coming when customers will no more
accept a car that produces greenhouse gases, is
made from nonrenewable resources, or is made by
exploited workers than they would accept a car without seatbelts.
Fords sustainability chief then introduced the
audience to a pair of environmental initiatives:
a partnership with TerraPass to market carbon
offsets to owners and operators of Ford products
(earlier post), and the introduction of renewable
and recyclable seat fabrics to 80,000 as-yet
unnamed Ford vehicles as of model-year 2007. Ford
also plans to increase the recycled content of
each vehicles interior to 25% whenever that vehicle is redesigned.
Terrapass offers Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury
drivers the use of a carbon offset calculator to
find out how much carbon dioxide their particular
vehicle produces, as well as the effects of
actions such as removing a roof rack or properly inflating the vehicles tires.
The energy sources for the carbon offsets are a
wind farm in Nebraska and a methane digester at a
dairy farm in Minnesota. Ford will promote the
program with a point-of-purchase marketing campaign called Greener Miles.
The recyclable seat fabrics were developed by
Interface, Inc., a major carpet and fabric
manufacturer. According to a representative of
Interface, the fabrics are made from
post-industrial waste: fossil-fuel based
plastics which do not meet top-tier quality
guidelines for products such as soda bottles, and
which are then sold to a secondary market.
Interface is reportedly investigating plant-based
fibers from renewable sources; DaimlerChrysler
and Honda have already begun to use such materials.
Interface began to focus on sustainability in
1994 after its chairman, Ray Anderson, read Paul
Hawkens seminal book, The Ecology of Commerce.
Anderson later reflected, For the first
twenty-one years of Interfaces existence, I
never gave one thought to what we took from or
did to the Earth, except to be sure we obeyed all
laws and regulations...Frankly, I didnt have a
vision, except comply, comply, comply.
Interface is also one of the first US
corporations to adopt The Natural Step, a
science-and systems-based sustainability
framework that is used by a growing collection of
communities and corporations worldwide.
The Natural Step, or TNS, defines a sustainable
world by the achievement of four system
conditions, three of which are environmental and
one that is socioeconomic. TNS uses techniques
such as backcasting to envision a sustainable
future, and then work backward toward the present from that future.
In a subsequent interview with Green Car
Congress, Golightly acknowledged an awareness of
The Natural Step, in part through his work with
Interface. Golightly candidly stated that Fords
definition of sustainability is very much a work
in progress, and that in the future, new tools
will be needed to address larger problems such as
the predicted doubling of the worlds vehicle
fleet within a generation, or the growth of a
corporations total greenhouse gas production as
a result of its economic expansion.
These are tough issues, and the wisdom of a
constantly growing economy in a finite world has
been questioned before, most notably in the
1970s. However, there is a renewed interest in
limits to growth, and in the associated field of ecological economics.
Readers of our recent series on automakers
sustainability reports here at Green Car Congress
may also recall that Fords 2005 sustainability
report defines sustainable development in
economic, environmental, and social terms, and
defined social capital as the capacity of people
in our communities to participate fully in both
the production and consumption of our products and services.
When questioned about such a definition,
Golightly explained that it is a working
definition limited by the companys ability to
influence what we [Ford] can put our hands on.
Plug-ins. Golightly also touched on the prospect
of Ford-built plug-in hybrids, saying that the
company is investigating the technology, but that
three significant issues remain as barriers to
production: battery life, warranty coverage, and safety.
It is likely that the first production plug-in
hybrids will use lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery
packs. However, Li-ion batteries are generally
considered to be less stable than nickel-metal
hydride, the current hybrid battery of choice.
Much of the development of Li-ion batteries is
focused on addressing those concerns.
In a subsequent breakout session at the
conference, another Ford representative assured
attendees that the message [about plug-in
hybrids] is coming through loud and clear.
Addressing a question about Toronto-based
HyMotions conversion of Fords Escape hybrids to
plug-in hybrids (earlier post), the
representative said that we encourage our
customers to be creative with our cars.
Santa Monicas LOHAS event was the tenth such
conference presented in the US. Originally
focused on personal care and health products, it
is beginning to broaden its focus to
sustainability in general. Although the
popularity of the LOHAS acronym is growing in the
US, it is by far more widely used and recognized
in Japan than in other parts of the world.
[One response to blog and the blog author's clarification:]
I am not sure if Niel Golightly is more concerned
about the sustainablility of the auto or of Ford
Motor company. He touched on PHEV's so lightly as
not to appear that it is much an object of
concern. I believe that the future survival of
Ford will be integrally linked to the development of the PHEV.
Niel's comments on Lithium ion batteres do not
seem up to date. He makes no positive statements
on the manganese based ones as compared to the
older cobalt type and does not seem to realize
that the present level of battery technology is
presently limited to manufacturing capabilities.
He makes no comments on the roll of
ultra-capacitors to the preservation of electric car batteries.
If Ford Motor company was able to come up with
the assembly line process a hundred years ago,
surely there must be at least an ounce or two of
vision left to plan and develop vehiches for the
second century. Concern over seat cover recycling
is not going to be enough to keep the company alive.
---Posted by: Adrian Akau | Apr 29, 2006 7:01:21 PM
Just to clarify, Niel Golightly did not make any
specific comments regarding lithium-ion batteries
during the interview - only about batteries in
general. While many promising Li-ion developments
have been reported, the technology is still
young. As for ultracaps, they generally take up
more room than equivalent batteries, and that's a
design concern with the large amount of stored energy needed for PHEVs.
-- Posted by: Jack Rosebro | Apr 29, 2006 8:16:30 PM
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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