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Energy Dept To Test Experimental Car

September 19, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Government engineers soon will get to test a family-sized experimental car from Ford Motor Co. that is powered by a diesel-electric engine and can run for 60 miles on a gallon of gas _ double the distance of a typical car.

The P2000 LSR, which is expected to be delivered next month to the Energy Department for testing, was developed as part of a program intended to foster development of technologies for a mass-produced family car with improved fuel efficiency.

Ford is the first company to deliver a full-size hybrid-powered car that engineers can drive daily and test its engineering. Other automakers are working on similar fuel-efficient hybrid cars or have produced working models.

The P2000 has the passenger room, trunk space and acceleration of a Taurus, with 40 percent less weight. The car is made mostly of aluminum and other lightweight materials, and weights about 2,000 pounds, Ford engineers said.

Ford has not said it would put the car into production in the future. Domestic automakers are struggling with the cost of such a vehicle and have kept their research costs confidential. For instance, aluminum is three to five times as expensive to use as steel, pound for pound.

``This is not some sort of high-expense low-volume small vehicle we’re working on. We want to hit the mainstream of the market with a family sedan. That’s a little bit of a tougher order,″ said Mike Tamor, Ford’s project leader of hybrid electric vehicle design.

The engine has an important advantage over the hydrogen fuel cell future cars some other automakers are designing: It can be refueled at a gas station.

``What’s significant is that we have a full-size family sedan that gets double the mileage of today’s typical automobile and is a practical car for today’s needs,″ said Dan Reicher, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary of the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Toyota already has a hybrid gas-electric vehicle on the road in Japan, called the Prius. The four-seat compact car gets 66 mpg, and Toyota expects to introduce it into the U.S. market next year.

Although Energy Department officials are excited about other high-mileage hybrids, they say the P2000 is different because it aims for the mass market with a full-size car that seats five people.

``All the knowledge we have developed in this hybrid program is definitely going very heavily toward supporting product development″ for the mass market, Tamor said.

Ford and General Motors Corp. have said they do not plan to have a hybrid car in production until the next century. One hurdle left is making sure a mass-marketed, fuel-efficient family car is about as affordable as today’s cars.

``In order to be out there in large numbers, it has to be at a price that the customers are willing to pay,″ Tamor said.

Ford is delivering the car under the Hybrid Propulsion Systems Development Program, a joint program with the Energy Department that domestic automakers undertook to double the fuel economy of a mid-size sedan in city driving _ or to around 50 mpg, department officials said.

The department since has set its sights on a more ambitious goal of a family car that gets 80 mpg. But Reicher calls the 60 mpg car ``a major step″ toward that goal, demonstrating practical technologies that can be used in mainstream cars in the coming years.

DaimlerChrysler AG is expected to have a hybrid car ready for the Energy Department to look at in December, Energy officials said.

The Ford hybrid power system involves a small diesel engine that does most of the low-speed driving while an electric battery is used to help with climbing hills and sudden acceleration. The battery also recaptures about half of the energy used in braking.

To conserve even more power, the engine turns off while the car is idling at traffic lights. When a driver steps on the gas pedal, the car restarts in less than a third of a second, or about the blink of an eye, Tamor said.

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