Ford shifts to fuel-saving transmissions
Ford employee Romel Atterberry puts transmissions through final assembly at the Ford Motor Company Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Ford manufactures a 6-speed, fuel efficient, front wheel drive transmission at the plant.
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KAI RYSSDAL: This might be an opportune moment to mention oil prices. Crude topped off at a record $123.90 today. Closed just a tad lower. Never mind that reserves were actually up. Gas, as you know, isn't getting any cheaper. The experts say careful driving can stretch your mileage, not gunning the engine, keeping an eye on your speed, those kinds of things. Ford said today it wants to help consumers get more from a tank of gas, and at the same time bump its own fuel economy performance. The company announced it's going to start installing a new kind of transmission in nearly all of its vehicles.
From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.
SAM EATON: Ford says it can boost fuel economy up to 6 percent by replacing its standard four-speed automatic transmission with a new six-speed model. Tom Libby, with J.D. Power, says the reason is simple.
TOM LIBBY: It's just like a bicycle. You know, the fewer times you peddle around, the less energy's being used.
A lot less energy, when you consider Ford plans to put the new transmissions in 98 percent of its North American cars and trucks by 2012. Libby says Congress' new requirement to reach a fleet-wide average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 may be the spark for that change, but the motivation is doing it on the cheap.
LIBBY: They're looking at every product plan, every model and every powertrain in every model, and figuring out what mix they have to have in every one of those to hit an average of 35 miles per gallon, and then for all of those choices they make, they're looking at the most inexpensive way to do it.
That has many environmentalists rolling their eyes. The auto industry's main argument against higher fuel economy standards was that meeting them would be too costly and would harm the already struggling US auto industry. Roland Hwang, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says Ford's actions prove they've been crying wolf.
ROLAND HWANG: They know how to do this, but of course a lot of these technologies have been used for higher performance, higher acceleration and making the vehicle fleet bigger.
Hwang says with the era of the gas-guzzling SUV coming to an end, automakers can now apply these technologies to lighter and smaller cars, adding up to more savings at the pump.
I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace