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Ford Escape Hybrid Owner with Mary Ann Wright, former head of Ford's hybrid program
Mary Ann Wright, then head of Ford Motor Company's hybrid vehicle program, joins Bill Hammond to go over some of the controls on his Escape Hybrid.

Inside Ford's 'Escape Hybrid Experience'

Escape Hybrid owner shares his impressions of Ford's customer-focused training program

By Bill Hammond

Bill Hammond and his wife drove from San Diego to Detroit to attend Ford's inaugural "Escape Hybrid Experience", stopping briefly in Omaha to have lunch with EV World's editor. What follows are his personal observations from that event.

When we arrived for our 10:30 appointment on October 8, 2005 we were greeted by Ford Staff and escorted into the Scientific Research Laboratory, while they took our Escape hybrid. My hybrid was taken for a fuel economy inspection by Ford Certified Technicians.

Since we arrived to the laboratory early we started looking around at the exhibits that were provided. Then an engineer came running in and approached us. There was a sense of urgency as he approached us and I started to get concerned. He quickly asked why I had removed the luggage rack from the top of my car. I told him that the rack was removed to improve fuel mileage. He said that is what he thought and wanted to make sure.

Phase I
During the general meeting there were discussions for the design, EPA Fuel Economy Rating, about the manual and various aspects of the vehicle.

The event was well received and filled to capacity with 289 owners from 24 different states and two from Canada.

1) There were discussions about Ford having its own hybrid design and 155 US Patents. In addition to signing an agreement with Toyota to prevent any problems in the future if designs are challenged.

The best explanation on this that I can find in writing is from EVWorld.

Made in the USA - Another misconception that I should clear up is the urban legend that Ford is using Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. It is not.

I repeat, Ford Motor Company did not buy, beg, borrow or steal the gasoline-electric drive system out of the Prius. It is "Made In the USA". Period.

Ford engineers clarified this question for me nearly a year ago at their Michigan Proving Grounds, and both Ford and Toyota have tried to get the media to report this fact accurately, but still I occasionally come across reviewers who erroneously claim that Ford licensed the technology from Toyota.

Toyota's Cindy Knight told the Detroit News some time back, "Ford developed their own version of the power control system ... but it came up so close to what Toyota had developed that to protect from infringement, Ford licensed 20 patents from Toyota that make efficient operation and emissions reduction possible."

She added, "It is not really accurate to say that Ford obtained the technology from Toyota. So far, Nissan is the only other company that has planned to get its hybrid system -- or parts of it -- directly from Toyota".

The way the Escape Hybrid engineers explained it to EVWorld, Ford swapped patents with Toyota, exchanging some catalyst technology it owned for the 20 patents Toyota had. No monies actually changed hands.

Note: Ford holds 155 patents in the U.S. related to the Escape Hybrid.

While the design of the Escape Hybrid system is all Ford's, the actual components can come from suppliers all over the world, which is typical of all automotive OEM's today. The 330-volt Sanyo battery pack comes from Japan, and is one of the supply bottlenecks keeping the initial production run numbers down, despite intense consumer demand for fuel-efficient hybrids. Carmakers and their suppliers were caught by surprise as sales soared. That's why Ford announced it would build only 20,000 Escape Hybrids in the first model year.

Toyota has had similar issues, postponing the launch of its Highlander Hybrid and Lexus 400h so its suppliers can get it sufficient parts to meet demand.

2) EPA Fuel Economy Rating: Established in 1982, conducted in a controlled environment at speeds of 40 MPH and 60 MPH. Accessories are not used and the terrain is constant. The quote that comes to my mind is, "your mileage may vary."

The only complaints that I heard from the owners during the entire meeting was about service at the dealer locations. I feel that fuel efficiency was a concern with a desire for improvement but not a "complaint." The complaints ranged from not adhering to the hybrid manufacture’s recommendations for service intervals and that the mechanics seemed to be overwhelmed when a hybrid is brought in for service.

3) Touring the Owner's Manual: It seems that most car owners have read very little of the owner's manual that comes with the Escape hybrid beyond how to change the clock. I found this information on EVWorld.com.

Owner's new to hybrid vehicles will quickly discover the joy of automatic engine off and on operation, though having your motor stop on you at a traffic light can be a bit disconcerting at first. The Escape Hybrid is no different. The opening few pages of the manual explains this and a For example, it notes under the heading "Neutral operation" on page 6, "The vehicle does not charge the high voltage battery in the N (Neutral) position. Do not idle the vehicle in N (Neutral) for extended periods as this will discharge your high voltage battery".

It continues under the heading, "Escape Hybrid Unique Operating Characteristics".

"You may hear some unique sounds from a hybrid vehicle." The Escape Hybrid is equipped with a high voltage battery air conditioning system in the rear of the vehicle which cools the high voltage battery in order to ensure high voltage battery life and optimize performance. You may hear a slight clunk or tap noise as the vent door operates, as well as a fan noise in the rear of the vehicle; this noise is the high voltage battery cooling fan... These vehicle conditions and noises are normal and do not require service".

It goes on for another seven paragraphs describing all the different sounds the owner can expect to hear, which are entirely normal.

Paragraph fives states, "The engine speed in an Escape Hybrid is not directly tied to the vehicle speed. Under certain conditions, the engine speed may appear much higher than that of a conventional automobile"...

Paragraph six continues by describing how after certain servicing procedures the "vehicle's computers are relearning the operating characteristics of your particular engine in order to operate it as maximum efficiency".

The next paragraph reads, "The high voltage battery may go through a self-reconditioning process from time to time; these events optimize high voltage battery performance. You may notice slight changes to drivability during the reconditioning process".

The last paragraph is perhaps the most intriguing since it highlights one of the issues of using NiMH batteries: self discharge.

"If the vehicle is left inoperative for over 31 days, it may be necessary to jumpstart the vehicle". The manual then asks the owner to see the chapter on Roadside Emergencies for instructions on how to jumpstart the car.

Something else I found interesting while perusing the manual were the repeated references to safety. Ford has taken some pains to explain to Escape Hybrid owners that their vehicle also handles differently than a car. There are diagrams showing that the Escape is higher, shorter and narrower than a typical passenger car, and because of this it can go places a conventional car can't, but it also can't corner like a car with a lower center of gravity. I think I recall seeing at least three sections in the manual devoted to safe vehicle operation, including tire safety.

4) Engine Warm-up is for the purpose of maintaining temperature for the catalytic converter. I asked if they were working on alternative methods to maintain the temperature in the catalytic converter and they responded, yes. Then the subject was changed with no further discussion about engine warm-up.

5) Computer Chat - Yes, Ford monitors the comments and they do not endorse the creative techniques mentioned in these blogs.

6) Modifications – If you do warranties will be void.

7) Items that effect your fuel economy – Radio = .8 MPG; Rear Defroster = .8 MPG; Headlights = .9 MPG; Fan on High = 1.3 MPG; 300 lbs. of extra weight = 1 MPG; at 60 MPH using A/C, opposed to having the windows down = 1.2 MPG; if tire pressure is 10 lbs. low = 1.4 MPG; and expect a 25% drop in freezing weather compared to mild temperature.

Phase II
1) As the Escape Hybrid Experience got down to my specific vehicle the first item was meeting the Engineer that was assigned to. His name is Derek and he is a systems engineer that is working on the Fusion hybrid. Derek was very knowledgeable and he told me that there were some things that he could not share, he did say that higher levels of Ford staff could give me information that was beyond his clearance. During our meeting while was working on my questionnaire as we talked, Derek would leave and return with information pertaining to our previous conversation.

2) A test - Ford had about five pages that they wanted the owners to complete during the meeting. I gave my Hybrid Mantra to Derek for talking points as I filled out the questionnaire. Several items were in Ford’s questions and my mantra, such as choosing between MPG and additional features.

3) My tire pressure was low with 30 PSI where the Ford Service Tech. had set it during regular service. The tire pressure should be 35 PSI.

4) When should you have the windows down or have the A/C on. The official aerodynamic test shows at 80 F outside temperature have the windows down for speeds up to 60 MPH and below.

5) Cruse control or manual acceleration? The official aerodynamic results indicate that the cruise control fuel economy is better than their best test driver. There is an exception that when driving in an area that has a rolling hill terrain the test driver did better than the cruise control. This was attributed to the human ability to anticipate the top of the hill and taking corrective action.

6) Shifting into neutral while traveling downhill to coast. The automatic transmission is connected by wire and several safety control switches are installed. When traveling at speeds above 3 MPH if the driver shifted from Drive or Low into Reverse nothing would happen. There will be more on this technique in Phase III, when I take the driving portion of the Escape Hybrid Experience.

7) Resistance to change is defined as maintaining commonality with assembly lines.

Phase III
The Driving Test with Derek (a Ford Systems Engineer) as my personal fuel economy coach.

1) We started our drive on a plan route through Dearborn. I reset the Fuel Economy Gauge to zero.

2) Derek mentions a computer blog technique that I will refer to as the "Bump & Run." Basically the driver accelerates up to a speed of 40 MPH. Then tap on the brakes (enough so that you feel the grab of the brakes). This action sends a signal for the engine to shut off. From this point the concept is to drive (at about 35 MPH & below) in the electric mode of operation. I found this much better than the "Light as a Feather" approach that I had been using with many frustrated attempts.

3) Then Derek said, "Let’s shift into Reverse while traveling at this speed." I had him repeat it and with his encouragement I grabbed the shifting lever and pushed forward. I couldn’t close my eyes because I was driving. Anyway, nothing happened or should I say the safety switches saved-the-day not to mention my transmission and me.

4) When we returned from our short drive and checked the Fuel Economy Gauge the reading was 43.0 MPG.

Phase IV
1) More tests, Ford wanted input from owners regarding gauges to be used with future development.

Phase V
1) Exit plan as we left the Escape Hybrid Experience to make room for the next group of owners we were invited to view the Mariner & Fusion hybrids. I saw several new vehicles parked outside then

2) I saw three Escape hybrids with an outside air sensor mounted on top and went over to investigate. As it turned out these are the test vehicles that they use to test the aerodynamic conditions on the road. I went over and got a presentation. Under the hood wires were added then we moved to the back and opened the door. There was so much equipment added that they had a battery to operate everything. First thing that I saw was a junction box with a 16 by 16 grid of plug in ports that is 256 points. The engineer did state that some of the ports are redundant as grounds are monitored for several components. Then there is a computer shorting through all of these points several times per second.

3) Next we went to the driver’s compartment and there were more controls. It reminded me of a police car with a lap top computer on a rack and a few more gauges. The engineer explained the use for the various equipment when test driving.

4) Riding in a test vehicle was unique we moved the 10 pound lap top to the backseat (no room in front) and took off. With the lap top I could monitor about nine things at once ranging from RPM, temperatures, voltages and calculated percentages.

5) I saw the battery charging shut off at 52.9% of full capacity and asked the engineer about the factory predetermined level. He said actually it is 53% to allow for room to receive the regeneration power.

6) I asked about the controls for the accelerator pedal and the engineer told me that there were three switches and that the switches crossed reference to insure that the proper signal is being used.

Summary
I improved my fuel economy and the enjoyment that I get when driving my Escape hybrid. Many of my questions were answered only to raise more questions.

I feel that the Escape Hybrid (with less engine and token EV power), is an excellent move in the direction that the automobile industry needs to work towards. However the direction seems to be towards laying off tens of thousands and closing facilities. If they would just build a serial plug-in power electric hybrid, using present technology and achieving over 100 MPG the business would grow. It seems to me that status quo and right-sizing leads to a death-spiral. Take the next step and wow us with a "gotta have." Historically, higher volume of product produces lowered cost per unit and higher corporate margins.

Times Article Viewed: 12400
Published: 04-Dec-2005

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