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Ford Electric-assist Bicycle
Erika Tsubaki with Ford electric-assist bicycle at 2011 Frankfurt International Auto Show.

Ford's Electric Bicycle?

Exclusive interview with Erika Tsubaki at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

By Martin Schwoerer

An electric bicycle, by Ford Motor Company, shown at a major car show? Why would Ford build an electric bike?

Well, the first answer that comes to mind is: why not? After all, 900,000 bicycles with electric assistance were sold just in Europe last year, with a strong upward trend.

EV World has already reported on the basic facts of Ford's e-bike project.

But we wanted to know more about Ford's motivation, and what plans may be in store for the future. After all, Ford's e-bike is a quite gorgeous, desirable machine -- all the more impressive given that it is Ford's first effort in this field.

So in Frankfurt during this year's IAA international motor show, we jumped at an opportunity to have a talk with Erika Tsubaki (who is Ford's Design Manager overseeing the e-Bike project).

EV World: Please tell us about the e-bike project's background.

Erika Tsubaki: Well, Ford of course is a global company, and we have been noticing that in many places, emissions regulations are becoming quite strict. You cannot sell a conventional internal-combustion moped in so many Chinese cities anymore, for instance.

And we have been getting a certain amount of pressure from Ford dealerships all over the world to build something that can lure young people, and urban-lifestyle people, into dealerships.

EV World: The dealers asked for it?

Erika Tsubaki: Yes, that is where it came from. Apparently, Ford's dealers worldwide don't see bikes as something harmful to the auto business, but instead they see e-bikes as an effective supplement to their existing business. Also, e-bikes are perceived as a good entry vehicle to make people comfortable with electric-propulsion technology.

EV World: So it was a logical step to develop an e-bike?

Erika Tsubaki: It was a logical step, where new technology meets new regulations. We also figured it would fit our brand if we did it right.

EV World: And that means?

Erika Tsubaki: That means, our e-bike would have to look different from other e-bikes. You'd have to be able to tell from a distance that it was a Ford product. And it would have to demonstrate Ford's R&D abilities in terms of cutting-edge yet sensible technology.

EV World: When was all this happening?

Erika Tsubaki: The project really began rolling in mid-June. So you could say it took us six weeks to develop this working prototype.

EV World: Six weeks? That's incredibly short!

Erika Tsubaki: Well, we like to think that is what a company with Ford's global development facilities and talents can do, if they put their mind into it.

EV World: So please tell us why Ford's e-bike looks like it does.

Erika Tsubaki: In order to make the bike easy identifiable as a Ford, we wanted to integrate some basic elements of our design language into it. What is quite obvious is the U-shaped, trapezoidal frame that might vaguely remind you of Focus's front.

This is typical for Ford's "Connected Design" language which we hope is both clean and strong. It looks good but has a strong functional aspect as well, since the trapezoidal shape makes it easier to climb aboard this bike. We wanted it to have a "cross-gender" appeal: we did not differentiate between male and female versions, so we wanted it to be easy to get onto.

The trapezoid-shaped basic frame was good, because we found that it was strong enough to carry heavy persons weighing up to 110 KG. It was also able to withstand the stresses of electric propulsion.

EV World: We have heard that the Smart e-bike has an additional brace that they had to add late in the day, for safety's sake.

Erika Tsubaki: Yes, we didn't want any add-ons, we wanted the pure design to be strong and functional.

You might notice the bike is strictly black and white. Each color has its own meaning: black is for load-bearing elements, and white for the rest.

EV World: Apart from the easy mounting and dismounting factor, does the design have any other functional benefits?

Erika Tsubaki: Sure: it's extremely lightweight! The frame only weighs 2.5 KG, even though it is not 100% carbon fiber: we use an affordable mix of carbon and aluminum.

EV World: It's quite nifty the way that the battery and the motor are hidden.

Erika Tsubaki: That's a part of our design language -- keeping it clean. A car doesn't showcase its motor; why should a bike?

But there is an important functional aspect too. Bicycle saddles often get stolen. We made the battery a slide-out unit to which the saddle is attached. So you park your bike, take the battery out for re-charging, and your saddle is protected from theft as well as from the elements.

EV World: That's a great idea. And it's impressive that such a compact battery provides a range of 85 kilometers....

I notice Ford claims to have adopted some race-car technology for this bike?

Erika Tsubaki: A part of the Ford brand claim is that our cars are a great drive, so we felt a Ford e-bike needed something to give it a special driving feel, too.

Our bike is the first with patented magnetostriction sensor technology from the world of Formula One. To put it simply, this technology makes the switch-on and switch-off aspect of electric propulsion smoother than on other bikes.

EV World: You mean, the way the motor applies power when you start pedaling, and increases power as you put more of your leg into it?

Erika Tsubaki: Exactly. With some bikes, the power assist is a pretty abrupt sensation. We wanted our bike to appeal both to technology enthusiasts as well as to people who have never ridden an e-bike before, who will probably feel more comfortable when you provide a refined driving feel.

EV World: All this sounds great. When will I be able to buy it?

Erika Tsubaki: Ford hasn't yet decided whether to really market this vehicle. It will depend, among other things, on how the press and our dealers react to this prototype.

EV World: In that case, we wish you good luck!

Erika Tsubaki: Thank you.

Times Article Viewed: 14052
Published: 20-Oct-2011

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