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10 questions for a Ford electrification expert

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Driving an electric car these days comes with a caveat you won’t find in the owner’s manual.  Somewhere in the small print of the lease agreement a line reads:  “By agreeing to these terms you accept guerilla public relations duties for electric vehicles everywhere.”  During my loan of a Ford Focus Electric, literally everyone I spoke with about the car felt obligated to bring up a laundry list of reasons they thought electric cars would never catch on.  Eventually I collapsed under the negativity and phoned Gil Portalatin, Ford Hybrid and Battery Electrification Systems expert for support. 

Q:  What’s the most exciting part of your work?

“As an engineer, especially in the automotive industry, we’ve been developing vehicles and cars and engines and so forth for over a hundred years. With electrification it’s a new frontier. It’s very exciting for an engineer because here we are doing things that haven’t been done before, and in a way that no one’s ever thought of.”

Q: Are electric cars the future of the automobile as Ford see’s it?

(Paraphrased)  “It’s the power of choice.  Not one vehicle or powertrain suites the needs of everyone.  Customers have a need. We try to satisfy all those needs. If you need good fuel economy but do a lot of highway driving, Ecoboost is good for you. If you do totally urban and want to drive completely off the grid, we have an electric vehicle for you.  If you want to drive electric on a 10-15 mile commute to work every day, but drive 60-70 miles on the weekend, a plug-in hybrid might meet your needs. ” 

Q:  When can we expect the range of Ford’s all-electric cars to significantly increase?

“It’s all about how big of a battery you want to put in place.  If you put more battery in you get more range. It’s currently that simple.  There are tradeoffs with that. You put in more battery, you get the range, but it’s also heavier and it’s going to cost more. So what are the tradeoffs? What does the customer need?”

 Q:  When will the price of electric cars be on par with gas-powered cars?

“It’s all about scale, like with any new technology.” 

“As you produce more of them and a as adoption increases the price curve comes into play.  It’s really all about adoption.  How quickly it’s adopted, how quickly it’s accepted, and that’s the key.  It’s not a manufacturer producing it’s the consumer poll.”

Q:  Level 3 charging promises to drastically reduce charge times for electric vehicles. How fast of a charge are we talking about?

“It could be twenty (minutes) it could be thirty, they’re about that. In the near term it’s not going to be like going to a gas station and filling up your tank in five, maybe ten minutes. It’s going to be somewhat longer than that.”

Q:  Doesn’t Level 3 charging reduce battery life?

“In order to get that kind of energy into a battery in a short period of time it heats up the battery. When it heats up the battery it actually degrades the battery.  You heat up that battery quickly and often you are going to degrade that battery’s life. “

“So those are the things you have to overcome. Our customers are not going to accept longevity degradation and yet they still want the quick charging.  Those are all industry technologies that we’re working on together as an industry.”

Q:  Speaking of battery life, what kind of warranty does Ford offer on their electric powertrains?

“In Seattle and Washington State they’re 8 years, 100,000 miles.  We do that in order to give our customers piece of mind.”

Q:  But eventually the batteries will wear out and have to be replaced, correct?

“We hope not in the life of the product, that’s the whole point, to try and design these for the life of the product.  At that point in time you’ll be ready for a new vehicle and you would get a new battery.  If you so choose to keep your vehicle there will be batteries available”

Q:  What else can you tell me about Ford’s electric roadmap?

 “We have a dedicated building full of engineering teams that have PhD after PhD developing cell chemistry to look at the next generation of batteries.  We have people that are focused on what we call our high voltage EDS (electrical distribution system), the next generation type charging.  We have another team that focuses on nothing but the calibration effort on how to assure the transition from gas to electric are seamless and smooth for our customers. My team takes all this technology and we integrate it into the vehicles.  We work with our future platforms to assure that they’re electrifiable.”

Q:  In layman’s terms?

“You have a dedicated organization to electrification.  We’re here to stay.  That’s the message: We’re here to stay, it’s real and you’re going to see some great things from Ford.” 

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