Monday, January 14, 2008

Ford focuses on smaller engines with big results

DETROIT – Smaller may be smarter, says Ford Motor Co., the world's largest producer of big pickups. When Ford unveiled its Explorer America concept vehicle Sunday – a stylish crossover that looks like a highly contemporary midsize SUV – the real news was lurking under its hood.
Instead of a V-6 engine typically found in vehicles like it, the Explorer America was propelled by a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine – a four-cylinder producing 275 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque, considerably more than the current Explorer's V-6.
The big boost in power comes thanks to a turbocharger and direct fuel injection, a combination Ford calls EcoBoost. The automaker plans to use EcoBoost in as many as 500,000 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles during the next five years, allowing the automaker to employ high-powered four-cylinders in place of conventional V-6 engines and turbocharged six-cylinders instead of V-8s.
"What we are emphasizing is the broad-based application of this technology," said Dan Kapp, Ford's director of powertrain research and advanced engineering.
The smaller engines should deliver 20 percent to 30 percent better fuel economy, decrease greenhouse gases and deliver more power, Ford says. Moreover, the new engines should actually feel more powerful to drivers than the ones they replace.
"Much of the torque – the power that drivers feel – will be available from 1,500 rpm, just off idle, to the peak," Mr. Kapp said.
The half-million vehicles would be about 20 percent of Ford's cars and trucks.
A turbocharger is a small compressor under the hood driven by exhaust gases. It pushes the air-fuel mix into the engine's cylinders under pressure, forcing in a larger, denser amount of air and fuel – and increasing horsepower.
With direct injection, gas is squirted directly under high pressure into the cylinders rather than mixed with air in an inlet port leading to the cylinder. Though more expensive to build, direct injection is much more efficient than the port mix.
A 3.5-liter V-6 equipped with the EcoBoost system would produce about 340 horsepower, more than any of Ford's current conventional V-8s and about 75 horsepower more than Ford's conventional 3.5-liter V-6.
"The beauty of this technology is we can apply it at high volume and top to bottom in our lineup," Mr. Kapp said.
Although the system increases under-hood heat and subjects the engine to greater pressures, Ford believes it can deal with those challenges, as other manufacturers have, and maintain all current warranties.
"Customers are smart," said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president of marketing and communications. "They value vehicles – the more efficient, the better."
The Explorer America has room for six people and is capable of "moderate" towing and off-road driving.By TERRY BOX / The Dallas Morning News