Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site

Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by James Bergeron

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Ford HySeries Edge

Toronto, Ontario – When I informed my co-workers I would be heading to Toronto to drive a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle, they had two comments: “Cool!” and “You do know the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen right? Are you not afraid of blowing up?” I agreed with the “Cool” statement and I was pretty confident I wasn’t about to blow up… hopefully.

With rising fuel costs and daily news outtakes on global warming – sorry, I mean climate change – and of course with Earth Week just behind us, this was the perfect opportunity for Ford to show us their future plans in what they call “sustainability.”

Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge

The vehicle I drove was a modified Ford Edge, its V6 engine removed and replaced with battery packs, a hydrogen fuel cell and a DC (Direct Current) motor driving all four-wheels in an automatic AWD system that sends power to the front wheels or both front and rear depending on the conditions.

The HySeries Edge will most likely never see production – actually you can pretty much bet the farm on that one – but according to Greg Frenette, Chief Engineer Fuel Cell & Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Programs drive-train layout and configuration for Ford Motor Company, “The architecture and underpinnings you will surely see in the near- to mid-future as it is adaptable to current technologies.”

Dubbed the HySeries Drive, the Ford Edge I drove was not powered by the hydrogen fuel cell but by the 130kW DC motor supplied by energy from the Lithium Ion battery pack. However, that is not the entire story: the HySeries Drive is also a plug-in hybrid that can be charged from any regular household wall outlet.

Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge

How the system works is fairly simple to explain, but I’m certain it isn’t simple to implement. The vehicle operates in “battery only” mode for the first 40 km at speeds up to 136 km/h. When the battery is depleted to approximately 40% charge, the fuel cell auxiliary power unit (APU) automatically starts up and recharges the battery, giving the vehicle an additional 320 km of range.

Essentially, this allows the fuel cell to become a generator that solely charges the batteries rather than propel the car itself. This allows this system to be adaptable to current technologies such as gasoline or diesel engines to be used as generators.

So how does it drive? Pretty much like any other vehicle on the road! Get in; turn the key and wait a few seconds for all the systems to fire up. Then put it in drive and step on it. The electric motors really give the Edge a kick; with instant torque I could only imagine what this would feel like in a lighter vehicle.

There is a nearly imperceptible whine from the electric motors when you accelerate, and when cruising the vehicle is pretty much silent. If it wasn’t for the lack of snarl from a gasoline engine you wouldn’t know you were driving an alternative fuel-powered vehicle – in my opinion, a huge selling feature.

As for the hydrogen fuel cell technology, Ford has a fleet of Focus hydrogen vehicles scattered around the U.S. and Canada and has been running these for few years now without issue. “Development has been in progress for many years and we are tinkering like pioneers of the automobile; there is a revolution occurring in automotive technology and this is an exciting time,” said Mr. Frenette.

Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge

Now, don’t expect hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be on the showroom floor this year or the next, but this tinkering is moving us forward. There are still a few kinks to work out: the fuel delivery infrastructure is probably the biggest and most daunting hurdle to overcome. Cold climate start-up and operation are still an issue as current technology allows for start-up in conditions where the temperature is higher than 2 degrees Celsius; anything below 15 degrees Celsius is currently an issue. And then there is the issue of packaging and ensuring nobody blows up upon impact – in other words, they need to still meet or exceed current crash standards.

This is all great, but as I mentioned earlier we won’t be seeing this technology in the very near future; Ford spent some time explaining their strategy for sustainability and outlined their near, mid and long term plans.

In the near term (2008 – 2012), expect to see smaller engines in Ford vehicles. Ford Motor Company is introducing a new engine technology called EcoBoost that will deliver up to 20 per cent better fuel economy on half a million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles annually in North America during the next five years.

Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge

The EcoBoost family of four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines features turbocharging and direct injection technology. Compared with more expensive hybrids and diesel engines, EcoBoost builds upon today’s affordable gasoline engine and improves it, providing more customers with a way to improve fuel economy and emissions without compromising driving performance.

“EcoBoost is meaningful because it can be applied across a wide variety of engine types in a range of vehicles, from small cars to large trucks – and it’s affordable,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of Global Product Development.

When asked specifically about Canada’s best selling vehicle, the Ford F-Series, Christine Hollander Communications Manager Ford of Canada said, “We are working on improving the fuel economy of the F150. We have also announced that we will be offering, in 2010, a diesel engine in the F150. EcoBoost is also in the plans during that same time period.”

Other technologies that you should expect to see in the near-term on Ford vehicles are six-speed transmissions, electric power steering and aerodynamic improvements.

Ford HySeries-Drive Edge
Ford HySeries-Drive Edge. Click image to enlarge

In the mid-term (2012-2020) expect to see clean diesel technologies and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as well as new manufacturing processes to reduce the weight of vehicles. And finally the long-term plan (2020 and beyond) are battery-electric hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles similar to the Edge HySeries I had the pleasure to drive.

Ford is not the only automotive company working on these technologies. Competition is fierce in the automotive industry and climate change and reducing its carbon footprint is a growing concern for many automotive manufacturers. Nissan recently announced the purchase of Gold Standard-certified carbon offsets for new product launches and General Motors displayed a couple of plug-in electric vehicles at the 2008 North American International Auto Show.

All of these little steps and news bulletins prove to me there is a light at the end of this tunnel and it is not being emitted by an oil lantern.

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