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Posts Tagged ‘Ford’

photo: Ford

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Bummed that you don’t live in one of the select cities that will be the first to get the electric Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt next month? Or you do live in one of those early-adopter municipalities and want an electric ride but don’t like either car?

Well, if you’re willing to wait another year, the electric Ford Focus will be rolling into town. Twenty towns, to be exact. Ford on Monday announced that in late 2011, a battery-powered version of its compact car will be sold in — drum roll, please — Atlanta, Austin, and Boston as well as Houston, Chicago, and New York.

Denver, Detroit, and Orlando will get the Focus along with Raleigh and Durham, N.C. and Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C. Out West, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson are on the list.

Then there are the usual suspects: San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland.

“Markets were chosen based on several criteria, including commuting patterns, existing hybrid purchase trends, utility company collaboration and local government commitment to electrification,” Ford said in a statement.

“Ford wants to build on this enthusiasm by making our first all electric passenger vehicle available in as many pilot markets as possible,” Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in a statement.

“This is the first step in rolling out the Focus Electric. As the country continues to build up its electric vehicle infrastructure and demand for the Focus Electric grows, Ford will continue to evaluate additional markets and consider making this vehicle available in more cities across the country.”

The electric version of its existing Focus will be powered by a lithium ion battery that will give the car an estimated range of 100 miles. That’s the same range that Nissan is advertising for the Leaf. The Chevrolet Volt will travel about 40 miles on a charge before a small gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity.

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Photo: Molson Coors

In a story published in Wednesday’s New York Times, I write about the Carbon Disclosure Project’s new campaign to get global corporations to reveal their water consumption and the financial risks and opportunities in an increasingly water-constrained world:

SAN FRANCISCO — The Carbon Disclosure Project, an investor-backed nonprofit organization that has persuaded some of the world’s largest corporations to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Wednesday that it is asking 302 global companies to begin issuing detailed reports on their water use.

The move begins a campaign to put water consumption on par with carbon emissions as a concern of company shareholders. Scientists predict climate change will aggravate worldwide water shortages in the coming decades.

“For investors, it’s a material issue,” Marcus Norton, head of the new project, called C.D.P. Water Disclosure, said in an interview by phone from London. “It matters because long-term investors in particular see that water scarcity is going to impact companies’ operations and supply chains.”

Companies increasingly are running into water-related obstacles. Last week, New York State denied a permit for Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear power plant because of its enormous consumption of cooling water.

A few days earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new water quality rules that could limit mining company operations. And in California, regulators recently pressured the utility giant FPL Group to use more water-efficient technology in a solar power plant project while denying access to water supplies to other developers.

Norges Bank Investment Management in Oslo has identified 1,100 companies in its portfolio facing water risks, according to Anne Kvam, global head of ownership strategies for the bank, which manages $441 billion.

“As investors, we need to know if companies are in industry sectors or regions where water supplies are scarce and how they are managing those supplies,” Ms. Kvam said. “It’s a challenging thing to get good information about water management.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Todd Woody

Ford executives brought a battery-powered Focus sedan to San Francisco on Thursday (along with a plug-in hybrid Escape). It was clear from the presentation by Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification, that the automaker is aiming for a mass market and is spending a great deal of effort on helping create an entire electric car infrastructure. As I wrote in The New York Times on Friday:

At a press event in San Francisco on Thursday, Ford showed off a prototype of what might be called the Model T of the automaker’s electric car strategy: the battery-powered Focus sedan.

“This is about affordable transportation for the masses — this is not about a small niche,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification.

To keep costs down, the Focus and plug-in electric hybrids will be built — in small numbers at first — on what the company calls its global “C” platform, which produces two million cars a year.

“The assembly line in Michigan will produce the battery-electric Focus and also, with minor modifications, the gas Focus,” Ms. Gioia said. “We can change production as the market shifts.”

The Focus will hit the market in 2011 followed the next year by a plug-in electric Escape sport-utility vehicle, which Ford also showed off in San Francisco. Ms. Gioia said she expects electric and plug-in hybrids will account for 10 to 25 percent of the market by 2020.

You can read the rest of the story here.

But the cars seemed almost beside the point as Ford executives focused on their strategy to work with utilities and other groups to create open standards for electric cars and ensure that a charging infrastructure is in place when buyers hit showrooms.

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DANA POINT, Calif. — Have you driven a gas-guzzling planet-warming SUV lately? If so, it’s probably because gasoline prices have plunged in recent months and you’re more likely to trade up to a truck, Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Monday.

And he’s not happy about that.

“When gasoline went to $3.50 a gallon we saw a sea change in customer behavior,” Ford told Fortune Magazine managing editor Andy Serwer at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference in Orange County, Calif. “Now people are turning away from more fuel-efficient vehicles and taking the bigger vehicles.”

“I’ve been talking for five years now about the need for a gas tax,” he added. “We have to have some predictability on fuel pricing and that price signal has to be strong enough so customers” will continue buying smaller, fuel-efficient cars.” (Read more on Ford’s talk at Brainstorm Green.)

In other words, Ford Motor (F), General Motors (GM) and Chrysler won’t be able to kick their addiction to the profit margins that come from selling monster cars until consumers go cold turkey on cheap fuel.

Ford, who said he had been considered “something of a Bolshevik” in the auto industry for his early embrace of electric cars, said Detroit needs a floor under gasoline prices so it can make investments in alternative fuel vehicles.

“The worst thing for us is instability,” he said. “We need a much more stable planning horizon. That’s not just true for gasoline but for any fuel we use.”

Ford noted that when he joined the Ford board two decades ago he was told to stop “consorting” with suspected environmentalists. Times have changed in the car business.

“We haven’t had a lot of revolutions but boy are we now. I love it.”

Follow the Brainstorm: Green conference on Twitter at twitter.com/greenwombat and twitter.com/marcgunther.

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thinkcity_0122

photo: Think

Think Global, the innovative Norwegian electric car company, has temporarily halted production of its City urban runabout and laid off half its workforce as it considers a sale to survive the credit crisis, Think CEO Richard Canny told Green Wombat Tuesday.

“Think is in a situation where we can’t grow anymore,” Canny said from Think’s Oslo headquarters, where the management team was still working at midnight. “We have started an emergency shutdown to protect our capital and our brand. We’ll need a new and stronger partner, whether that is a 25% owner or a majority owner or someone who buys the company.”

The Norwegian government said on Tuesday that it would not make an equity investment in the automaker but is considering Think’s request to guarantee up to $29 million in short-term loans. “Even a small participation from the Norwegian government will give investors confidence,” Canny said, noting that the company needs to raise $40 million to continue manufacturing its electric car. “The financial crisis has hit at a very critical stage as we’re ramping up production and when external financing is hard to bring into the company and internal funding is limited.”

He said a rescue package might include aid from from the Norwegian government and an infusion of cash from new investors or strategic partners. “We’re putting a hand out. People who would like to work with us should pick up the phone.”

Ford (F) acquired the startup in 1999 and sold it a few years later. Norwegian solar entrepreneur Jan-Olaf Willums and other investors rescued Think from bankruptcy in 2006, aiming to upend a century-old automotive paradigm by changing the way cars are made, sold and driven to create a sustainable auto industry.

As Green Wombat wrote in a 2007 feature story on Think, “Taking a cue from Dell, the company will sell cars online, built to order. It will forgo showrooms and seed the market through car-sharing services like Zipcar. Every car will be Internet-and Wi-Fi-enabled, becoming, according to Willums, a rolling computer that can communicate wirelessly with its driver, other Think owners, and the power grid. In other words, it’s Web 2.0 on wheels. ‘We want to sell mobility,’ Willums says. ‘We don’t want to sell a thing called the Think.’

The company sells the car but leases the battery so buyers don’t have to fork over cash upfront for an electric vehicle’s single most expensive component – an idea subsequently adopted embraced by everyone from Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric car infrastructure company to General Motors (GM).

The failure of the new Think would be a blow at a time when the auto industry desperately needs to reinvent itself. While Think is a niche player and faces formidible competition as Toyota (TM)  and other big automakers go electric, it has pioneered  the idea of a new automotive infrastructure that includes tech companies and utilities like PG&E (PCG).

Whether Think can survive the global financial crisis remains to be seen, but Willums, who stepped aside as CEO recently but remains on the board, is a prodigious networker with deep contacts in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. In little more than a year he raised around $100 million from an A-list of U.S. and European investors that includes General Electric (GE), Keiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Rockport Capital Partners – the latter two marquee venture capital firms formed a joint venture with Think to sell the City in North America. Canny said the U.S. expansion plans are now on hold.

The question now is whether Think’s investors, absent a government bailout, will step up to save the company just as it has started to gain a foothold in the market. In a presentation made Monday, Canny, a Ford veteran, said eight to 10 two-seater City cars a day had been rolling off the company’s assembly line outside Oslo.  Think has a blacklog of 550 orders and 150 cars will be delivered by January.  The company was set to begin selling a 2+2 version of the City in mid-2009. (Think had planned to begin selling its next model, a five-seat crossover car called the Think Ox, in 2011.)

“There are limited possibilities of funding working capital through bank credits without extra guarantees in today’s financial market,” Canny said, noting that the company hopes to resume production in the first quarter of 2009. “Think’s automotive suppliers are severely hit by the overall industry crisis, leading to tougher terms of parts delivery to Think.”

Green Wombat will throw out one potential savior of Think: Google (GOOG). Many aspects of Think’s innovative business model were born at a brainstorming session that the search giant hosted in 2006 for Willums at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. Given that Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, has poured tens of millions of dollars in green energy companies and electric car research, an investment in Think would be another way to drive progress toward its goal of a carbon-free economy.

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