Ford Taking the Lead in Sustainability

At the recent Sustainable Brands 2013 conference, I was able to speak with John Viera, Ford Motor Company’s Global Director of Sustainability. It has been clear for some time now that Ford is clearly on a winning path with innovative design translating into increased sales. At last count, sales were up 13% in June compared to the same month a year ago. Sales of green cars industry wide in May 2013 jumped 30% compared to May 2012, of which Ford continues to increase its market share.

As Ford’s Global Director of Sustainability, John heads up a team that is responsible for developing long term environmental and social strategies. On the environmental side, this includes examining how to make products more sustainable over time and how to make the manufacturing facilities that the products are being made in more sustainable and the related strategy to accomplish the goals. John highlighted Ford’s use of recycled materials in their seat fabric as an example. From the social side, John identified conflict minerals as an area where Ford has tried to address and influence others.

When asked about the problem of reliance on rare earth minerals and the increased use of battery technology, John pointed out that Ford must look at an increased electrified fleet in the out years and design an environmental strategy which circles back to the social aspect and minimize the company’s exposure to rare earths by actively conducting research on alternatives now.

The company’s current portfolio of cars includes fuel efficient gas powered vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and EV’s. This range of vehicles, which Ford calls the “power of choice” strategy is built on the premise that the company will offer all types of vehicles and let the customer decide which one to purchase. John noted that despite the varied powertrains, the company capitalizes on the economies of scale since the vehicles are built on the same or similar platforms. As a result, Ford can change manufacturing patterns based on real time information quickly and efficiently. In addition, John noted that hybrids will dominate the green car scene for a while with increasing growth in plug-ins, but EV’s will remain a relatively low volume car for the foreseeable future.

When asked about whether we will see a affordable full-size hybrid truck, John spoke about Ford’s partnership with Toyota to develop the core technology that will spur products in this market segment. The collaboration between both Ford and Toyota dovetailed nicely with one of the core takeaways from the Sustainable Brands conference: Some problems may be too big to solve on your own, so collaboration between industry competitors may be required.

Since Ford has moved away from being called an auto company to being called a mobility company, the key question is what does it mean to be a “mobility company”? On that question, John noted that it was probably unlikely for Ford to get into trains, but could in a very real way get into information technology such as communication platforms between cars and public transportation and partnering up with states and cities to help develop solutions to reduce congestion.

In addition to my conversation with John, I was able to test drive the Ford Fusion Energi on a short 20 minute drive on the streets and freeways of San Diego. First things first, the Ford Fusion Energi looks great and unique to its class. The car has an EPA rated 100 MPGe combined city/freeway. When driving in all-EV mode, the Fusion Energi has a range of 21 miles. Over my brief test drive, I was able to drive in all-EV mode as well as hybrid mode. When pushed, the Fusion Energi moves. If I had one big request for Ford, can you produce a plug-in version of the next Mustang?

Walter Wang is Managing Editor of CleanTechies. Follow Walter on Twitter: @energytaxprof

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