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Businessweek: Ford admits to ignoring fuel-saving technologies.

For years, conspiracy buffs have claimed that the major auto-makers, working closely with the oil industry,  have intentionally suppressed the development of fuel efficient vehicles.

We've all heard the rumors of inventors and engineers who created 200 mile per gallon carburetors, only to have their patents or plans squelched by mysterious representatives of the oil-industrial complex.  But now, an article in the February 23 edition of BUSINESSWEEK has Ford admitting that it intentionally  squelched - or at least ignored - vital fuel saving technologies.

The subtitle to the story says it all "Ford once nixed fuel-saving tricks from the '50s. Now it's using them to boost mileage and cut emissions."  

The basic gist of the story is that the same fuel saving tricks that Ford knew about but hasn't used for at least 50 years are now being used to make fuel-efficient cars that people might actually want to buy.

What's odd is that most of the "tricks" Ford Motors has ignored are also ways of improving performance and horsepower (something Ford drivers like). The article gives a powerful example by citing research by the Union of Concerned Scientistssaying that a redesigned Ford Explorer ( a pretty big gas guzzler) could almost double  its 15-miles-per-gallon performance rating rating with some upgrades from the industrial Stone Age. Those upgrades are:

1) Direct Injection Engine Technology (invented by Jonas Hesselman in 1925)

2) Light-weight body components ( used by the Egyptians in 1700 BC )

3) Turbocharging ( invented by Alfred Büchi in 1905 )

4) "Stop / Start" engine technology (this is essentially the same technology as a "dead man's" switch, which has been used for at least 150 years on trains, street cars, boats and recreational vehicles )

What's ironic and heartbreaking about Ford's failures is the company's implicit dislike of fuel-efficient vehicles in spite of enthusisatic demand for fuel efficiency by its dealers and customers. In 2007, Ford according to the BBC, Ford was actually losing up to $4,000 on every vehicle it sold. Locally, one of San Diego's most beloved Ford Dealers, Pearson Ford, for example, was forced to merge with its rival Kearney Mesa Ford.

Why is that heart-breaking?

Well for one thing, Pearson Ford has been a generous financial benefactor in promoting energy and fuel efficiency in San Diego. Its safe to say that without generous contributions from Pearson Ford, the  San Diego EcoCenter - a vital public education tool, wouldn't even exist. In addition, it was the same Ford Dealer - Pearson - that helped fund and create America's very first alternative fuels station, offering 10 different fuels to motorists.

The bottom line: By ignoring the past, Ford may not be able to compete in the future. And that's too bad, because Ford used to mean "affordable."  In fact, it was the first company in the world to make cars that ordinary people could drive ... and actually wanted.

In 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists made a series of recommendations on what Ford could do to create a 28 MPG Ford Explorer. Note that the "Exemplar" version of the vehicle is not only more fuel efficient, but it has a superior 0-60 time, and actually has a lifetime cost that's $1,500 cheaper than the much slower Ford Explorer.

Ford Explorer USC Exemplar USC Exemplar Plus
Curb Weight (lbs) 4146 3525 3525
0-60 Performance (secs) 12.4 10.7 12.2
Fuel Economy (mpg) 19.3 28.4 34.1
Vehicle Price $28,830 $29,545 $29,765
LIfetime Fuel Costs $7,253 $4,961 $4,155
Total Cost $36,083 $34,506 $33,920