As part of the cover story on the future of vehicle propulsion in the July/August 2019 edition of Automotive Engineering magazine, this article is one of four that examines the near-term future of vehicle propulsion from the perspective of OEM powertrain-engineering senior executives.
Ford has always touted its “Power of Choice,” and when it comes to automotive powerplants, the industry is entering a new age of propulsion options. The wellspring of alternative powertrains entering the field – from mild- to plug-in hybrids; battery electrics to fuel cells; alternative fuels and downsized/boosted internal combustion engines – has made the role of managing a global engineering group significantly more complex.
With expanding solutions unfolding before him in real-time, Dave Filipe, Ford’s global VP of powertrain engineering has some powerful decisions to make, ones that will ultimately guide Ford’s future product viability. Luckily for Filipe, he says he relishes the fertile engineering environment and the challenges facing his capable teams. “You could call it a challenge, but I love it,” Filipe said during a recent interview from his office in Dearborn. “What other company is out there right now who has these clear strategies and who's willing to invest in its products, and uses its team to deliver that?”
Filipe, who took over the top Ford powertrain spot from Bob Fascetti in September of 2017, is aware of how quickly the powertrain space is changing. “I was at a technical conference yesterday morning, reminiscing that six or seven years ago, we were thinking about, ‘OK, we're at six speeds today. Do I go to eight or 10?’” Filipe said. “Yeah. I thought those were challenging days.”
All-electric plus ICE
Each day sees some prognostication of a fully electrified mobility future, but for today’s manufacturers, Filipe envisions a mix of solutions, by market. “We know all electric is coming, and we will be a player. We're going to have eight all-electric vehicles over the next three to four years. On top of that, we invested $500 million in Rivian to add a product to the market quickly to help accelerate in that space. So fully committed to all electric,” Filipe explained. “A lot of analysts have projected what 2030 looks like, but customers are going to dictate that.”
Filipe noted that though “all-electric” is all the rage, a mixed portfolio approach will be needed to serve the various markets. “Since we can't dictate how much all-electric's going to be in the marketplace – and it could be 10-, 20-, 30-percent – we'll make our products as appealing as possible to the customer for all electric. In the meantime, we are trying to address that remaining 70% of the portfolio, which will be ICE based.”
“We have to rationalize what we spend where, and we're doing that on the ICE side. But when you do that, it doesn't mean it goes to zero, because ICE is still going to be a significant role in the global portfolio for the next 10 to 12 years,” Filipe said. “And we could use it nicely combined with electrification to compliment an all-electric BEV.”
“At Ford, we’re committed to a two-pronged approach on hybrids,” Filipe explained. “The Power Split, which is electronic CVT, and now our modular hybrid technology (MHT). We're the only OEM to complement our all-electrics with a second powertrain system, and it's the right solution for heavier vehicles – Explorers, F-150s – where customers want towing.”
Diesel shifts and pushrod V8s
“In the world of diesel, the trends have shifted in recent years, particularly for Europe. Not just cities in Europe showing they're not fond of diesels, the customers are starting to weigh in,” Filipe said when queried on the future of the recently chastised fuel. “And we see that movement down. Within a handful of years, a significant reduction.”
“In Europe, we are adjusting course. We're simplifying and rationalizing what we have in our passenger-car diesel lineup,” Filipe explained. “But at the same time, on commercial vehicles, that customer is still looking at diesels. We're also introducing a plug-in hybrid version of a Transit in Europe as we speak. So again, we're starting to shift our portfolio and recognize that diesel is wanted by certain customer segments.”
“In the U.S., what we're trying to do in this space is offer an alternative to the diesel that works very well in a Super Duty. And this is a very high-torque, larger V8 engine that we're going to provide,” Filipe said, referencing the new 7.3-liter “Godzilla” pushrod gasoline V8. “In the world of Super Duty where it's all about work, cost of ownership, it's a tool. We looked at all the options, and we think the best answer in this case was coming out with a pushrod engine, which we haven't done in a long, long time on the gasoline side.”
With investment costs for the electrified age looming, few companies seem prepared to go the budget alone on the massive industrial shift. Ford continues its high-level talks with Volkswagen, while acquiring mobility startups such as Spin and investing in outfits such as Rivian. Key in making it to the future while surviving the balance sheet is a great supply base, which Filipe credits for its innovation and agility: “Our supplier partners are fantastic. They are innovative, and very good at systems solutions and creating the value equation, because it's got to be a win-win for everybody.”
With so much at stake in this nascent new mobility era, is Filipe getting to the office earlier these days? “It's dark out,” Filipe conceded about his morning schedule, but he noted, “I'm hitting 27 years with the company. We've got incredibly talented people who keep getting smarter, and we’ve filed over 1,300 patents in the past couple years on electrification alone. I just enjoy being on the journey with the team because I keep learning from them.”Continue reading »