Ford’s Sustainability Roadmap: From EVs to a Future Beyond Cars

When Dan Kapp, Ford’s director of power-train research and advanced engineering, came through San Diego a week or so before Christmas, he told me the first all-electric Focus cars would arrive here in time for Valentine’s Day.

Yesterday, the Focus EV road show came through town again as part of a promotional tour ahead of the first deliveries of Focus EVs to Ford dealers in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. After six months, in other words, Ford still says its Focus EVs will be available in San Diego in the next month or so.

When I checked with a Ford spokesman about the delay, he replied in an email: “Ford began making fleet deliveries at the end of the year last year to several key partners such as Google, MSFT and Apple under limited quantity orders. Full production then ramped up in early 2012 with first deliveries to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey. They are now making their way to San Diego as part of a phased roll out with the remaining 19 launch markets. San Diego area dealers actually have Focus Electrics right now, which is exciting. Ford plans to expand sales nationally in early 2013.”

That’s not exactly the way I remember it, but hey, it’s no big deal. (Of course, the skeptical journalist in me wonders if such optimism extends in other ways, such as the Focus EV’s estimated 105 MPGe and EPA-rated 76-mile range.) Nevertheless, I’m rooting for the Focus EV and other electric vehicles to take their rightful place under the sun.

The latest EV road show coincided with a presentation that John Viera, Ford’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, gave about the company’s green branding strategy at a conference in San Diego on “sustainable brands.” After his presentation, I got to take a Focus EV for a test drive around the parking lot of the Paradise Point Resort, and ask Viera a few questions.

Xconomy: How soon is the roll-out of Focus EVs in San Diego?

John Viera: They’re going to be coming to the dealerships now. We’re producing them now. I would say, you could probably expect to see numbers [of them] in dealers by the end of the summer.

X: Talk about your overall strategy. In your presentation, you talked about Ford’s plan to create a platform for electric vehicles and then offer that in different model types.

JV: Body styles, right. When we talk about the C platform—which the Focus body is on—we’re going to have the Focus battery electric; we have a vehicle called the C-Max, which is a brand new vehicle also on the C platform, kind of a mini-SUV, mini-vannish looking sport utility vehicle, kind of like the Escape; we’ll have a hybrid version of that and a plug-in version of that vehicle. We’re not announcing anything yet, but we’ll have seven to nine different body styles on the C platform.

X: What’s the focus of your role at Ford? What is a director of sustainability?

John Viera

JV: We kind of lay out the product strategy in terms of, what do our products need to look like today, five years from now, 10 years from now, 50 years from now? So it’s kind of based on what we determine to be the allowable CO2 coming from our vehicles, cause that’s tied to the climate science and it kind of dictates the mix of different types of vehicles that you would have. So today, we’re introducing electric vehicles. We don’t need to have a high percentage [of electric vehicles] today based upon our [current] CO2 target. But 25 years from now, we’re going to need to have a lot more electrified vehicles on a percentage basis. So our team lays out that roadmap to say the percentages you need are ‘X’ and the percentages you need in 25 years are ‘Y.’ The product team produces the vehicles to meet that roadmap.

X: Is that to meet regulatory standards for CO2 emissions and particulates, and things like that?

JV: Actually, our strategy was set up prior to any regulations coming along. We based it on the climate science. When I say climate science, I mean [stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations below 450 parts-per-million carbon dioxide equivalent]. We’ve determined our share of reductions that we need to have to support that 450 parts per million. So our targets are based off that share. The good news is that particular strategy meets all the regulations, and in some cases exceeds the regulations.

X: What about the materials that go into making a car? Are you conscious of sustainable principles there as well?

JV: When we talk about the environmental impact of a vehicle, it’s a question of ‘How do you reduce the CO2 coming from the vehicle and how do you make the materials going into the product more sustainable?’ The good news is that of the vehicles on the road today in the U.S., 85 percent get recycled. It’s the highest recycled consumer product that is out there.

But to your point, we also have a sustainable materials strategy that our team has laid out. That’s basically saying that we want to push more recycled and renewable content into our vehicles. The way we define it, recycled content would be like taking recycled pop bottles and using that in the material to make our carpets and our seats. Renewable content would be plant-based material, so a good example is that we’re using oil from the soy plant to actually make the foam in all of our seats. In the non-sustainable, traditional approach, the foam was a petroleum-based product. So what we’re really trying to focus on is how do we move away from petroleum-based sources to either recycled content or renewable or plant-based content.

X: How big is the sustainability group at Ford?

JV: Our group is very small. We have a handful, maybe a half dozen, or six to 10 people. The reason our group is so small is that we come up with the strategies, but then we have the product development organization, our sourcing organization, manufacturing organization, and they take those strategies and implement them in their operations.

X: So you’ve been developing these guidelines, what’s next?

JV: The roadmap could go on almost indefinitely. What we need is to move from is a majority of our products running on fossil fuels to a majority of our products running on non-fossil fuels, right? It’s got to be either electric or hydrogen. That’s the progression of where we’re going.

Beyond that, we’re talking more about the fact that Ford wants to be a mobility company. So we might want to start looking at businesses that are not just producing cars and trucks. This is long term. As we look out into the future, you know, there is more and more congestion. The planet can’t just continue to accept more and more cars and trucks. So how do we want to be in the mobility business? Maybe [it could be] making our cars more effective in terms of talking to each other, or maybe even getting into some ancillary businesses. That’s much longer term, but we’re looking at that as well.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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