Unless we want to remain addicted to oil and continue shipping billions to the likes of Moammar Gadhafi, renewable fuels have to be the answer. But while I believe the great future of renewable fuels is ahead of us - maybe quite a way ahead of us - in the meantime Ford has decided to concentrate on the good old internal combustion gasoline engine and squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of it and the vehicles it drives.
Ford is not alone in this, but you can see that through investments it made going back to 2008 it is now in a position to pick off the low-hanging fruit of fuel-economy competition.
Last week, I drove the newest version of the most important vehicle in the Ford fleet - that would be the Ford F-150 pickup truck, of course. Yes, you can still buy one with a monster V-8 engine but the "premium" engine and the one it hopes will be 50 per cent of the fleet is the six-cylinder EcoBoost.
Now if a V-6 isn't enough to make a traditional pickup jockey choke, this one also comes attached to a sophisticated six-speed, dual-clutch, automatic transmission. A cast-iron V-8 with a four-speed box has been standard equipment for decades.
The EcoBoost V-6 gives the power and torque of all but the mightiest V-8s through a couple of turbochargers and direct gasoline injection. Hyundai does this with a great little four-banger, too. I can tell you from driving the F-150, and from years of Ford V-8 experience in a Mustang, that this six will satisfy even truck fans with a V-8 tattoo. Did I mention that the payoff is up to a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy?
It was an expensive gamble by Ford to spend to develop an engine to compete against the iconic V-8 but tough fuel economy regulations are coming in 2015 and gasoline prices are climbing now. Good timing for Ford. It might also tempt a few people to shop a smaller Toyota Tacoma pickup with a four-cylinder engine.
The ethanol debate
At present, ethanol is the renewable liquid fuel that has made the greatest contribution to cleaning up the environment and reducing petroleum dependence. Yes, it's mostly corn-based and corn is far from ideal as a feed stock but ethanol has opened the door for the renewables and cellulosic and algae and isobutanol won't be far behind.
So why is it that people seem to lose their minds when discussing this important, transitional fuel? The latest irrational outburst comes from Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestle, who calls ethanol "absurd" and told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, "Thirty-five per cent of U.S. corn goes into biofuel. From an environmental point of view, this is a nonsense, but more so when we are running out of food in the rest of the world. It is absolutely immoral to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger and into extreme poverty because of such a policy, so I think - I insist - no food for fuel."
That's rich coming from Nestle, which has been piling up profits by flogging breast milk substitutes (infant formula) in developing countries in spite of a 30-year boycott against Nestle led by doctors, health professionals and parents. Brabeck-Letmathe might want to examine the linkage between high oil prices and high food prices before he decides ethanol is "immoral."
We need a reasonable discussion about renewable fuel options in order to build on what's been accomplished so far. If Nestle wants to be the arbiter of "morality," it should look to its own practices first.
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