Ford, EPA in deal for new hybrid engine design
Many automakers have been developing so-called hybrid cars and trucks that marry a gasoline engine with an electric motor and battery pack. The electric motor acts as both a booster and an energy recovery device, increasing fuel economy by reducing the workload of the gasoline engine.
Instead of electric batteries, the Ford-EPA system uses a pressurized liquid to store energy. Hydraulic motors and pumps recover energy from the engine and brakes, then use the pressure from the tanks to help power the vehicle.
Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said the system was still in the laboratory, but could offer some advantages over electric hybrids. The tanks needed to store pressurized liquid may be lighter and cheaper than hybrid batteries and possibly more efficient.
In addition, the hydraulic system produces more torque, or twisting power, than other hybrids - an important consideration for trucks that require high-torque engines.
The terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Ford has an exclusive right to the technology and said it hopes to put a pilot fleet of vehicles with the system on the road by the end of the decade.
Only Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. currently sell small numbers of hybrid cars in the United States. Ford, General Motors Corp. and the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG all have plans to sell limited numbers of hybrid trucks or SUVs by 2003.
Automakers have been slow to roll out hybrids in large volumes, citing the higher production costs of the electric systems and low consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. Enviromental groups have been lobbying for more hybrid production to slow the growth in U.S. gasoline consumption, which has increased steadily since the 1970s.