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Ford Investigating Plug-In Hybrids: Golightly interview at Green Car Congress

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  • Felix Kramer
    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 see
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2006
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      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 Company’s Niel Golightly,
      the automaker’s director of sustainable business
      strategies, presented some of Ford’s 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 Ford’s 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. I’m here to tell you that it won’t
      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.
      —Niel Golightly

      Ford’s 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 vehicle’s 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 vehicle’s 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
      Hawken’s seminal book, The Ecology of Commerce.
      Anderson later reflected, “For the first
      twenty-one years of Interface’s 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 didn’t 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 Ford’s
      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 world’s vehicle
      fleet within a generation, or the growth of a
      corporation’s 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 Ford’s 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 company’s 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
      HyMotion’s conversion of Ford’s Escape hybrids to
      plug-in hybrids (earlier post), the
      representative said that “we encourage our
      customers to be creative with our cars.”

      Santa Monica’s 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

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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