Back to the future

1964-ford-galaxie-500-xl

For years, the Big Three automakers fought efforts in Congress to increase mileage standards. Now we’re all paying the price.

Given the gas price shock last summer and the current economic crisis, Ford is rediscovering some old techniques to help them improve gas mileage in its vehicles.

As fuel-economy standards get tougher, auto companies are peering into a future where next-generation electric vehicles and advanced hybrids beckon. But these days, Ford Motor executives have one eye on the future and one on the past. Ford is dusting off a host of old ideas for boosting gas mileage and slashing emissions. Some of these concepts were dreamed up decades ago, deployed in lots of small European cars, and vigorously promoted by environmentalists. But in Detroit, the technology has mostly sat on the shelf.

Not anymore. Ford now emphasizes fuel economy across its whole lineup. And for its 2011 Explorer the company is making prominent use of such “retro” green technology as lighter-weight steel body parts and “direct injection” engine technology. This technique, which dates to the 1940s, feeds gas and air straight into the engine cylinder instead of premixing it, resulting in a more efficient fuel burn. Together, the technologies could allow the new Explorer to reach highway fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon, upstaging Toyota’s Highlander hybrid, which gets 25 mpg. “There is a lot we can do to get meaningful fuel-economy improvements without going all the way into electrics,” says Ford’s global product development chief, Derrick Kuzak.

It’s about time.

  

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