Alan Mulally’s vision for Ford, the energy ecosystem and your home - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Alan Mulally’s vision for Ford, the "energy ecosystem” and your home

Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford. Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford.
The debut of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. The debut of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
A test model of the Ford Focus Electric. A test model of the Ford Focus Electric.
Ford's alternative to the pickup truck, the Transit Connect. Ford's alternative to the pickup truck, the Transit Connect.
The Ford Fusion, Motor Trends' 2010 Car of the Year. (photos ©Dan Meade) The Ford Fusion, Motor Trends' 2010 Car of the Year. (photos ©Dan Meade)

By Dan Meade
Provided by WorldNow

Over the course of the first day of the 2010 New York Auto Show you could almost feel Alan Mulally's plan for Ford coming to fruition. Mulally, Ford's President and CEO, was present in New York and spent much of his time discussing Ford's recent turnaround from an in-debt and troubled company to the leader of Detroit's Big Three. 

Instead of focusing on sales stats and figures, Mulally spoke about research and innovation. He told the story of how, three years ago – before the auto industry was rocked by the recent recession -- he traveled to New York to take out a "small home improvement loan" to restructure Ford's corporate debt and accelerate the development of new vehicles. That research is now coming to fruition with a line of vehicles that includes the Ford Focus Hybrid, the Ford Transit Connect and the just-debuted 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.

The MKZ Hybrid was held as an example of what may be just the tip of the technological iceberg. Expected to deliver at least 41 miles per gallon in the city with a 191-horsepower gas-electric engine, Ford's Derrick Kuzak stated that the MKZ Hybrid will not only be "the most affordable fuel efficient luxury sedan it America, it is also designed to be the most affordable."

As sleek as the MKZ Hybrid looked, and as well as its hybrid engine is built to run, cars of its ilk were not all that was on Mulally's mind in New York. A former executive vice president at Boeing, Mulally was already used to intense electrical regulation and oversight when he arrived at Ford in 2006. Once in Detroit, he found that Ford was approaching electronics along similar lines as the engineers at Boeing were, an approach that would become crucial to Mulally's vision where "rechargeable vehicles represent a new frontier [that] will take broad-based collaboration and systems solutions."

Electric cars such as the MKZ Hybrid, after all, need to charge their batteries, which means that in order to own one, a buyer has to have a home that is capable of charging and has to be connected to a power grid that can sustain a growing population of such homes. To that end, Mulally reached out to Microsoft and together the two corporate giants began working on synergizing Microsoft's Hohm technology into Ford's fleet of electric vehicles. 

Giving an overview of what Hohm is capable of, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, joined Mulally via satellite. Ballmer made the point that "as the market for electric vehicles expands, it will have a significant impact on home energy consumption and demand across the nation's energy grid. With Microsoft Hohm, Ford and Microsoft will deliver a solution that will make it easier for car owners to make smart decisions about the most affordable and efficient ways to recharge electric vehicles, while giving utilities better tools for managing the expected changes in energy demand."

As presented, Hohm would be capable of creating, and regulating, the "energy ecosystem" that the two companies spoke of. For those looking to buy an electric car, Hohm will be able to assess whether their home is capable of charging an electric car, help manage how and when it is charged, and will connect to other electric devices in the home, helping to maximize use and reduce peak-hour charges. Microsoft's Troy Batterberry spoke of Hohm as if it were a smartphone application with a reach that extends throughout the entire house. He gave the example that Hohm could remind you that you left your dryer running during peak hours and enable you to turn it off and run it later, during non-peak hours. (Hohm is currently available for free to all residential energy consumers.)

This union with Microsoft displayed the depths of Mulally's systematic and forward-thinking approach to running Ford. Not satisfied to merely think about how America drives, he is also thinking about how America lives, and uses energy. Or, as he quoted Henry Ford as once saying, Mulally is finding ways "to open the highways to all mankind" – both automotive and electric.

And those highways seem as if they may once again be filled with Ford vehicles, thanks to that "small home improvement loan" which Mulally received three years. Ford's March 2010 sales are up 43 percent compared to March 2009 and the company's most technologically advanced vehicles are making good first impressions.

The Transit Connect van, Ford's energy efficient alternative to the pickup truck, has sold over 13,000 models since its debut last August. The redesigned Fusion has seen "conquest sales," sales to customers new to Ford, increase to 60 percent of total Fusion sales in February, up 11 percentage points from the 2009 calendar year. And not to be outdone, the Fusion Hybrid has been winning industry awards, including being named North American Car of the Year and winning the Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

All told, in 2011 and 2012, Ford will be introducing five electrified vehicles, including the 2011 Focus Electric, which will be the first car released with Hohm installed in it.

Dan Meade is the Auto editor for WorldNow and has been covering the New York Auto Show since 2008.

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