The Model T For a New Era
By Katie Sosnowchik
by a supercharged hydrogen internal combustion engine, equipped
with a hybrid electric transmission, enhanced by a host of advanced
safety systems and pioneering green materials and processes, Ford
Motor Co. has debuted the Model U, a concept car it has dubbed the
Model T of the 21st century. Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, vice president
of research and advanced engineering, describes the Model U as Fords
model for changeexploring the benefits a vehicle provides
to its users, the way it is manufactured and how it impacts the
Despite his acclaimed vision, its doubtful that Henry Ford
could ever have imagined the Model U concept car. He may be credited
with putting the world on wheels, but he probably never
dreamed that someday those wheels could be fueled by hydrogen rather
than gasoline; that people would talk to their cars, and cars could
answer back; that vehicles could navigate drivers to their destination;
or that cameras could enable autos to see around the vehicles in
front of them.
Yet, it was Fords Model T and the way it revolutionized transportation
in the last century that provided the inspiration for the Model
When Henry Ford built the Model T, it was affordable, offered
the most advanced manufacturing and was built with the most advanced
materials, says Schmidt. In a similar, but entirely
contemporary way, Model U starts a new cycle. Emissions, safety
and fuel economy, also green materials and processes, are all key
questions facing the entire industry. We believe the Model U addresses
The Model U is very different from most futuristic concept
vehicles, says J Mays, vice president of design. It
tries to address the challenges of the future and proposes exciting,
realistic solutions that exceed current industry standards.
In his introduction of the Model U on January 5 at the North American
Industry Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, MI, Mays described the car
as urban, contemporary transit for evolving lifestyles.
The idea for the Model U was born out of Ford Motor Co.s desire
to showcase future mobility ideas within a single concept car for
its centennial celebration. (The company was formally incorporated
in June 1903 and is now the worlds second largest automaker).
It is the brainchild of a partnership struck among Fords
Research and Advanced Engineering; Fords Brand Imaging Group
(an internal design think-tank); Bill McDonough and Dr. Michael
Braungart (McDonough is the architect of the new Rouge Center and
co-founder, with Braungart, of the product design firm MBDC); BP;
and a host of technology suppliers.
When we were charged with creating the concept vehicle for
the companys centennial, we tried to capture the spirit of
the Model T, says Laurens van den Acker, chief designer of
the Model U. The Model T changed peoples lives; it spurred
a kind of revolution. So this wasnt just a styling exercise,
it was a holistic process. Thats why it was so important to
have engineering and design work together on its development.
Ford Motor Co.s current chairman and CEO, William C. Ford,
Jr., emphasizes that the beginning of this companys second
century will be driven by product development such as the Model
U, as well as 15 other new product introductions Ford launched at
the event. Speaking to the NAIAS audience, he noted, We dont
want to live in the past, we want to learn from it. Great products
will drive our success. Fresh thinking and new technologies are
as much about celebrating the start of the next 100 years as they
are about honoring the last 100.
Immediately following the NAIAS press conference where the Model
U was unveiled, green@work had the chance to sit down with Dr. Schmidt
and find out more about the development process that went into this
concept car and explore what the applications of its technologies
will mean for future Ford vehicles in particular, and mobility in
Reconfigurable Interior and Exterior
* Modular interior features
a series of slots in the floor, door panels and instrument
panel that allow different components to be mounted, moved
around or added later. Slots provide power and access to the
vehicles electronic network.
* Three-box profile exterior;
body panels are visually separated through different materials
* Seats four.
* Generous cargo space.
* Power retractable roof,
rear window, tailgate and trunk allow the vehicle to go from
closed to open.
Hydrogen ICE plus Hybrid Electric
* A 2.3-liter, four-cylinder super- charged,
intercooled hydrogen internal combustion engine, coupled with
a hybrid electric transmission.
* Enhanced fuel economythe
equivalent of 45 mpg and about 300 miles of rangeplus
near-zero regulated emissions and a 99-percent reduction in
* Powertrain features
Fords advanced Modular Hybrid Transmission System to
simplify hybrid electric vehicle (HEV)
technology in manufacturing, while contributing to significant
fuel economy improvements.
* Can meet PZEV emissions.
Conversational Speech Interface
* Advanced conversational speech technology allows
a person to speak naturally to operate on-board
systems including entertainment, navigation, cellular telephone,
climate control, retractable roof and personalization preferences.
* Upgradeable instrument
* Vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
Improved Driver Visibility and Awareness
through Active Safety
* Pre-crash sensing, adaptive
front headlights and an advanced night vision system with
laser-based heads-up display to help the driver avoid accidents
before they occur.
* Accident avoidance stereo
* TrafficView system
uses cameras in side mirrors to help driver see around large
* Four-point safety belts.
Green Materials and Processes
* Advanced materials designed
for their ecological effects; can go from cradle-to-cradle,
instead of staying in typical cradle-to-grave waste streams.
* Corn-based roof canvas.
* UV-cure clearcoat.
* Bio-materials including
based foam and tailgate, sunflower seed-based oil and corn
* Flexible manufacturing,
extrusions and castings.
HOW WAS THE VISION
FOR the Model U FORMED?
SCHMIDT: Good ideas often have many fathers. It started
with the idea to deliver, for the 100th anniversary, a safety car.
Now, this was about the time I joined the company. And being aware
of so many exciting technologies being developed in our research
lab, and exciting design ideas coming out of our advanced design
communitywe decided to create a technology bundle that answers
many difficult questions for future mobility: clean, environmentally
friendly, safe and enjoyable for our customers. It was the right
time to design a project that covers everything.
At first we wanted to deliver a car that did not emit carbon dioxide
emissions because of global warming; we wanted to create a car whose
materials, as much as possible, wouldnt end up in a landfill;
we wanted to have a product that delivers a driving experience at
least or even better than todays products. The Model U combines
it allattracting the customer and delivering the best for
the customer and the whole world at the same time with the same
productthis is the equation we tried to solve. And I think
we are pretty close.
THE MODEL U IS POWERED BY A HYDROGEN INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE
(ICE). DOES THIS SIGNAL FORDS COMMITMENT TO HYDROGEN DEVELOPMENT
RATHER THAN, SAY, FUEL CELL DEVELOPMENT?
SCHMIDT: We dont know
exactly what the final endgame will be. There are still some attributes
of the fuel cell that are not as favorable as they should be. But
I am not pessimistic. We have 100 years of experience with internal
combustion engines, and we only have a few years experience
with fuel cells. Never give up too early. We are dedicated to making
the fuel cell a success. But there are high probabilities that we
will not have a high production volume of fuel cell cars in 10 years.
We have to develop bridging technologies that will pave the way
for fuel cells.
WILL ELEMENTS OF THE MODEL U APPEAR WITHIN
THE BROADER FORM PRODUCT LINE?
SCHMIDT: I hesitate a little
because there are such a huge number of innovations. From the safety
technologies to the conversation speech recognitionall of
these things are pretty close to the start of production. These
things will happen and will be introduced step by stepI have
to guess, but I would say maybe within five years you will see all
these safety-related technologies available.
With the materials, maybe it will take a little longer. I think
the biggest opportunity is to start with smaller volume production
cars. We have to decide how these technologies fit into our cycle
plan and wrap this up with limited volume at the beginning so that
we can gain more experience in the manufacturing process.
But this is all realistic. The overall design ideas of the car are
convincing. I think we will see in the future some elements of reconfigurable
designgiving the customer a chance to upgrade cars step by
step according to his needs. A customer doesnt have to buy
a new car if he has new requirements.
If you were to ask me, When is the earliest time for a hydrogen
combustion engine?, my answer would depend on some additional
partners from the outside, because hydrogen is not available today
in a huge quantity. It is similar to when we started with catalytic
converters: there were no lead-free fuels, so there were no catalytic
convertersand as long as there were no cars with catalytic
converters, there was no lead-free fuel. But this was a pretty easy
problem to solveit was just the question of lead in or lead
This situation is a little more difficult because we have to create
hydrogen in huge quantities and we have to build up the infrastructure.
It doesnt make sense to have a gas station with
hydrogen in every small town in North America. You have to start
with some mega-cities and areas where you can build up infrastructure
at the same time you offer products able to burn hydrogen. This
is a task which needs support from energy suppliers; it needs a
lot of support from the Department of Energy, resource boards and
the Environmental Protection Agency because many questions are linked
to technology and to rules and regulations, safety standards for
refueling, etc. Therefore, it needs a cooperative approach from
DO YOU SEE EUROPE SOLVING THE PROBLEMS
ASSOCIATED WITH HYDROGEN INFRASTRUCTURE BEFORE THE U.S.?
SCHMIDT: Sometimes Europe has
an advantage because of the overall density of the population and
because traveling distances are shorter. To build up an infrastructure
in a smaller area, such as the mega-city area in northern Germany
where the distances are shorterwould be easier than in North
America with its vast open spaces. My assumption is that maybe it
should start first with fleet applications or in mega-city areas
such as in California where there are very sensitive air quality
standards, or on the East Coast.
WHAT ASPECT OF THE MODEL U'S DESIGN IS MOST WORTHY?
SCHMIDT: Independent of the design language of the carso
in regard to innovation and technologiesI think the whole
powertrain with the hybrid and with the supercharged hydrogen internal
combustion enginethis whole package is a key element of the
Overall, its a nice bundle of new technologiesits
safe and environmentally friendlywith a surprising flexibility
for the customer. I think we found the right mixture of customer
delight, future orientation and environmentally friendly materials
from both the manufacturers side and the users side.
WILL ONE TECHNOLOGY LEAD THE WAY?
SCHMIDT: I think the navigation technology and the safety
features are pretty mature. I think they will be in production,
piece by piece, in maybe the next five years. The materials, I would
assume more of a time frame between five to 10 years. The hydrogen
ICEalso between five to 10 years, as well as the modular transmission.
This is just the first generation of hybrids, and we will continue
to offer to our customers hybrid-electric vehicles in other models,
and we will develop future hybrid-electric technologies. This is
an advanced new idea.
SO THE POWERTRAIN PACKAGE IS APPLICABLE
TO OTHER VEHICLES?
SCHMIDT: I think this is a design that is not just fitting
to the Model U. In fact, it may even be easier with vehicles like
SUVs and pick-ups because with the Model U, there are space limitations
with packaging the engine super-charger, the hybrid transmission
and the fuel tanks for hydrogen. It is a compliment to Laurens van
den Acker and his team of designers that they were able to create
such an overall package. This should be an easier problem to solve
with larger vehicles because there are less size and weight restrictions.
The whole package as we have seen it is an advanced research designits
a masterpiece of art, it is not a product for model year 2004. We
have to offer innovations that show the way to the future. We not
only have to dedicate ourselves to what will happen next autumn,
we have to look at what has to happen in 2008 . . . 2012 . . . 2015.
Could we build this car in 100 units per year? YesI dont
think thats a big problem, but it would be very expensive
and wouldnt make sense. But to have a similar product that
has many elements of the Model U in 2010 or 2015that is realistic.
DOES FORD INTEND TO SOMEDAY OFFER A MODEL
U CAR - ONE THAT BUILDS ON WHAT WE SAW TODAY?
SCHMIDT: It is called a model
for change because it has many elements that are necessary for the
future of our businessnot necessarily for a particular auto
company or for individual mobilitybut for protecting our natural
resources without restricting personal freedom. It needs innovative
thoughts and personal creativity to make it happen.
WAS THIS COLLABORATION AMONG THE DIFFERENT
DIVISIONS WITHIN FORD A UNIQUE ONE?
SCHMIDT: The way we did it was
not really typical; it was an excellent initiative between Js
team and my team. Sometimes you need a challenge. Working together
is not really new; but working in this close of a partnership among
different disciplinessafety, communications, technology, internal
combustion engine, hybrid, materialswas a key success factor.
It created an environment of close partnerships and acceptance of
new ideas from different viewpoints. This interdisciplinary approach
within one company creates an atmosphere of dialogue allowing new,
unconventional ideas to be implemented.
ARE YOU ENCOURAGED BY ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS
AT OTHER AUTOMAKERS?
SCHMIDT: I am still convinced that we have to follow
different routes. I am supporting increasing the number of products
on the hybrid-electric vehicle side. The technologies are available
and applicable to other products. Its now a question of how
fast we can ramp up.
I also advocate competition between different solutions. For example:
diesel is a technology that offers 20 to 30 percent better fuel
economy and at least 20 percent better fuel emissions. I think we
should give this technology a chance. We shouldnt have a dogmatic,
this is the only way philosophy. I cant predict
what will be the preferred solution in 10 or 20 years. Its
more of an evolution. But let diesel engines compete in the North
American market with hybrid-electric vehicles. Lets offer
the customer both technologies. The result will be that costs will
come down for both technologies. Competition favors our customers
and favors improved efficiencies, lower emissions and improvements
in air quality. Diesel was not a topic for the Model U because it
is more about short-term solutions instead of a long-term vision.
YOU CAME TO FORD ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO FROM BMW. WHATS YOUR
PERSPECTIVE ON FORDS ABILITY TO PUSH THESE INITIATIVES FORWARD?
SCHMIDT: We heard today about Fords 100 yearsonly
a few companies have such a long-lasting tradition. This delivers
huge leverage; if you improve only one percent, your influence is
much more significant than say 50 percent with a smaller company.
Maybe the smaller company is more exciting, but the impact on the
world, on the customer, is not. The size of the company and its
ability to influence is very important. This is a global business;
you wont find many companies that have such an international
approach. In my division we have people from more than 56 nationalities
represented. So we are not local, we are global in thinking. This
is an outstanding challenge for an engineer with some experience
in another part of the world, from another company and another side
of the business.
SCHMIDT: The next important
step is to find a business case for the product. If you look at
bundling all this technology into one car, its a nice scientific
and design task, but not necessarily a good business case for a
company. We now have to develop many of the components here for
We are excited about the Model U and about the internal processes
and also about the feedback coming in, so we have decided we want
to make another car. We have to refine and improve what we have
done the last 24 months with the Model U and create new ideas. And
we will partner again with the design side to solve critical problems.
This is fun and it also educates the organizationit makes
the organization more mature and able to deliver better products
in the long-term.
New Way of Thinking About Cars -