When I was a student at University High in West LA in the late 1950s, after acquiring a driver license, the goal was to obtain a set of wheels. However, if your chariot was a six-banger, you were sneered at with comments like: “Six in a row just don’t go.” Times have changed due to advances in technology and soaring fuel prices, the new mantra is: “Four in a row is the way to go.” Ford Motor Co. is embracing this trend. It is focusing production on its turbocharged EcoBoost 2-liter, 4-cylinder engines. The automaker is banking on the engines attractive combo of performance and fuel economy; these mini-powerhouses will replace six cylinder engines in more cars and compact sport-utility vehicles.
For several years, Ford has been using smaller engines that use turbochargers and direct fuel injection parts to boost power and give drivers a similar experience to larger engines, but with better fuel economy. To amp up production of its EcoBoost engines, Ford plans to invest $200 million investment in an engine plant near Cleveland, Ohio. As a plus for the local economy, the move would add 450 workers to the facility. “Clearly, our business is performing well and we need incremental 2-liter capacity based on the demand,” explained Joseph Hinrichs, president of North and South America for Ford in an interview.
The four-cylinder EcoBoost engines are now the principal choice in the Ford Escape and Edge sport-utility vehicles as well as the Fusion sedan. Ford has been shipping the engines for those vehicles to the United States from its plant in Valencia, Spain. Ford plans to continue production at that facility; however, the automaker notes that demand is now sufficient in the US to justify the expanded production in Cleveland. In addition, moving production to the US will lower Ford’s exposure to fluctuations in the value of the euro. The engine plant in Ohio also manufactures a 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine that is used mainly in the Ford F-150 pickup truck. This engine is replacing the V8 for many Ford trucks. As recently as 2009, Ford only sold the F-150 with a V8. Now, V6 engines make up more than 40% of sales of the truck.
The expansion at the Cleveland facility marks the latest sign of how Ford’s recent run of strong profits in North America is translating to investments in upgrading and expanding manufacturing in the region. In addition to Cleveland, Ford has renovated and expanded several US plants; as a result, it has added the capability to build an additional 400,000 vehicles annually.
Despite Ford’s downward cylinder shift in its stable to four, the automaker is also expanding the other edge of the spectrum. The company is also is expanding production of a V10 gasoline engine at a plant in Windsor, Ontario. The 25% capacity expansion is designed to meet growing demand for recreational vehicles, particularly from Winnebago Industries Inc. Ford is one of the few suppliers of the engines and chassis for motor homes. Mr. Hinrichs explained, “There is strong demand for recreational vehicles. It’s a good sign for economy.”
So there you have it: Ford is offering the gamut from four to 10 cylinders, with a focus on the former. Four in a row is the way to go.