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Is Ford Innovative? Part Two.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on November 1, 2005

I received the following email from Mary Ann Wright, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, at Ford. She is plenty mad at me for the previous post questioning Ford’s innovation in hybrid technology. Here is her email in full.

Bruce - I read your article and feel compelled to respond with some facts.

Ford Motor Company was THE FIRST auto manufacturer in the world to put a full hybrid SUV on the road.
The Ford Escape Hybrid (and now the Mercury Mariner Hybrid) was engineered, validated and is manufactured in the United States. There is NO Toyota technology or parts in our vehicle. We received NO technical support from Toyota when designing our hybrid system.
We entered into a business arrangement with Toyota where we EXCHANGED patent licences. We licensed 21 patents from Toyota because our hybrid system design was close enough in design to what Toyota did that we wanted to ensure there were no accusations of infringement. At the same time, Toyota licensed several patents from Ford for emissions technology. This was a financial transaction — one which goes on in our industry every day.
We are now working on our second and third generation of Hybrid technology — which will be on the streets in less than 3 years. We will have 250k hybrids by 2010 CY — we are committed to this technology and it’s proliferation.
I head up a team of incredibly bright and talented engineers and scientists who put their hearts and souls into designing a world class vehicle — one which our customers love. It is still the ONLY Hybrid SUV on the market that is certified to meet the most stringent emissions standards — Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV). The Escape Hybrid delivers 75% better fuel economy in city driving than the it’s sister gas version.

I am very passionate about this and hope that you will do my Team and your readers a service by correcting the record. Thank you.

I honestly don’t know how to interpret the sentence—“We licensed 21 patents from Toyota because our hybrid system design was close enough in design to what Toyota did that we wanted to ensure there were no accusations of infringement.” I could use some help here folks. Let’s have a conservation about whether Ford did or did not use Toyota hybrid technology.

One thing is clear however. Mary Ann Wright, is clearly the kind of passionate team leader that all companies need to have.

Reader Comments

Tom Guarriello

November 2, 2005 1:25 AM

Well, unemcumbered by facts or legal knowledge, I read her comments as meaning Ford decided to play preemptive defense by licensing those patents, fearful that Toyota would sue them if they released their vehicle including those features. Whether or not this was simply one of those technical "coincidences," in which two or more researchers come upon similar solutions to common problems, is, of course, unknowable by outsiders. Certainly, Ms. Wright intimates that her team came up with these developments without any knowledge of Toyota's solutions.

And, you're right, she's certainly the kind of feisty, parochial project team leader companies look for: these are clearly, "her people" you were talking about, and she didn't like it one bit. There's something of the "Lutz tone" about her, as well; just edgy/confrontational enough, but not offensively so.


November 4, 2005 10:11 PM

If you have more questions, can't you just ask her? Or contact someone from Toyota? And Toyota licensed some Ford patents, so this isn't a one way street.

Scott K.

February 10, 2006 11:44 PM

Yeah, I would want something more independent than someone that works at Ford saying this. 21 items that are sufficiently different to require and get their own patent for Toyota, and Ford just happens to come up with the same 21 items -- at the same time -- for the same use? One or two maybe, but I find that very difficult to believe.

And yes, competitors sell license rights every day for business reasons. But they tend not to do it unless they have to. And it is usually for something very specific. Not 21 items associated with one vehicle. Like BMW can patent its iDrive system, but when Mercedes came out with its command system, they didn't get permission from BMW. Even though they are both simple controllers, used to control the systems of a car thru a (complex) main menu. How they work is different. Notice that Ford, or Toyota for that matter, doesn't pay Honda for anything related to it's hybrid technology. And Honda was first to the market with a modern Hybrid car. That right there tells me something is fishy about the idea that Ford had to go to Toyota. To my knowledge none of the other car makers developing Hybrids has gone to Toyota for help.
It interests me to no end that the author just gushes about how Ford was the first to put an hybrid SUV on the market. Big frigg'n whoop. It was Honda that put the first vehicle on the road with a hybrid drivetrain; that was a big risk and a big development. Toyota brought it to the US market and brought it to the fairly mainstream market. That was a big risk. Ford only jumped in once it was proven as a viable idea, and that the US market would embrace it. Does anyone doubt that we wouldn't have the Escape hybrid if the insight and particuarly the Prius hadn't gone first and been successfull?
Interesting how they say they are still the only hybrid on the market that meets AT-PZEV regs. Well, they are also the only 4cy hybrid SUV on the market. Surely she knows that.
Or that it gets 75% better mileage than the gas version. Surely she knows, real world that isn't true. But wants to put it in there to toot Ford's horn.
She goes on to gloat about how they will have 250k hybrids sold by 2010; how many does Toyota or Honda have now?

Todd A.

March 14, 2006 3:19 PM

A number of corrections to Scott K.'s post. The Honda Insight was the first hybrid to market, but not the first "full hybrid". Honda uses IMA (Integrated Motor Assist). This uses an electric motor to supplement the gasoline engine to boost output and improve fuel economy and emissions. The Honda examples, even the new Accord and Civic, do not have the ability to run in full electric mode for any part of the drive cycle.

Ford was put into a position of having to license technology from Toyota because Toyota was the first to develop and patent many basic mechanical and electronic control technologies for FULL hybrids, which the Escape Hybrid is. No one seems to recall that at the same time, Toyota licensed a number of Ford patents on advanced emission controls. The following from The Detroit News on 7/18/04 helps put it into perspective:

On June 22, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. issued a news release headlined, Hybrid Hype? Fact and Fiction surrounding the new technology. Deep in the corporate Q&A is this nugget:

Is Ford using the Toyota hybrid system?

Answer: Although the Ford system is very similar to Toyota's, Toyota is not directly supplying any components to Ford. Toyota and Ford have entered into a licensing agreement allowing Ford to use technology that had been patented by Toyota.

Scott also goes on to say: "Interesting how they say they are still the only hybrid on the market that meets AT-PZEV regs. Well, they are also the only 4cy hybrid SUV on the market." I'm not sure what one has to do with the other. AT-PZEV is an emissions classification under the CARB LEV regulation. The Toyota is a full hybrid, but did not meet AT-PZEV, where the Ford does. This requires some very unique control of evaporative emissions at both ends of the combustion process. For instance, the air cleaner is a sealed for life component good for the life of the vehicle. This prevents emissions from leaking back out of the system after engine shutdown. Toyota could have taken a similar approach, but chose not to.

Scott also states: "Or that it gets 75% better mileage than the gas version. Surely she knows, real world that isn't true. But wants to put it in there to toot Ford's horn." Well, the reality is that the Escape delivers real world fuel economy that is much closer to it's stated fuel economy than the Prius and far better than the Hondas. Consumer surveys show the Escape Hybrid as the only hybrid of the bunch that receives better satisfaction ratings for fuel economy than the gasoline equivalent. Toyota and Honda have overpromised and underdelivered.

Finally, Scott claims that Ford will have 250K Hybrids sold by 2010. That is incorrect. If you read the press releases from Ford, they state that they will have the capability in place to produce up to 250,000 Hybrids per year. That isn't the same as a promise to sell 250K hybrids. Only customer demand can determine that.


Tom Mehrens

June 30, 2006 6:28 PM

"Is Ford using the Toyota hybrid system?

Answer: Although the Ford system is very similar to Toyota's, Toyota is not directly supplying any components to Ford. Toyota and Ford have entered into a licensing agreement allowing Ford to use technology that had been patented by Toyota."

While my comment is a little late I find that the above exchange is really quite funny (with the answer somewhat disingenuous) since subsequent comments by Bill Ford commented during some interview that Ford was having problems obtaining parts from Toyota.

Bob S

August 8, 2006 6:47 AM

No. What Ford said is that Ford was having trouble getting parts from Aisen, who happens to supply transmissions to Ford and Toyota. Toyota bought up all of Aisen's excess capacity. They couldn't do that with the battery since Toyota uses Panasonic and Ford opted to use Sanyo.

"Aisin, which is minority-controlled by Toyota, has interesting shareholders they have to answer to," said Mary Ann Wright, director of Ford's hybrid programs research and advanced engineering.

"They have recently been awarded a significant piece of business, and what that has done is limit the number of engineers who can work on my program," Wright said

Bob S

August 8, 2006 7:06 AM

Scott K:
Toyota has over 300 patents on the original Prius transmission. That puts 21 at about 7% of their patents. Now does it seem a bit more feasible that 7% of Ford's technology overlaps? Let's look at it another way-- Toyota licensed diesel technologies from Ford. I mean, diesel and direct injection have been around how long and Toyota still couldn't find a way around Ford's patents?

And for the record: 1. Toyota got sued for their original hybrid technology because of existing patents. 2. Toyota's own website states that Ford only licensed some patents but does not use Toyota technology (search on 'Ford Hybrid').

Steve J

September 22, 2006 2:31 AM

Both Ford and Toyota use varients of the core Aisin single planetary gear CVT transaxle, which means they use an electric drive controller, transaxle housing, gears, electric power motors that are nearly common but are not identical.
They have differences in control strategy. communications messages, and will soon diverge in who supplied the electric drive controler. How they are used is somewhat controlled by how that transaxle works, but the implemeentation details are very different. In a similar vein, Ford and GM cooperated on a new 6 speed FWD transaxle but nobody is accusing either of using the others technology there like the accuations of Ford using Toyota technology. The real IP is in how the hybrid system operates and when it does things and in that both are different and were designed independently.

In new technology, getting patent protection is part of the game in these litigatious days..

Wade Nelson

May 2, 2007 2:20 AM

Ms. Wright states the Ford Escape Hybrid is a " class vehicle - one which our customers love."

Apparently not all of them.

I discovered this and FIVE other Escape Hybrid owners' credible accounts of having COMPLETE AND SUDDEN TOTAL BRAKE FAILURES occuring in Ford Escape Hybrids, while driving at speed.

>I have a 2006 FEH that I bought back in Dec. 2005. Since then I have had not 1 but 2 COMPLETE brake failures. By the grace of God I did not get into a car accident either time. The first time they replaced the wiring harness then 7 months later it happened again. This time they replaced the ACU unit. I have filed a complaint with NHTSA, Ford and the dealership. I am requesting a but back on the are b/c I am scared to death to ever drive it again. Ford had told me they will not buy back the car. Has anyone had this problem? Gone through the steps for a buy back? Any advice I would really appreciate it. I can't get behind the wheel of that car again and I don't know where to go from here? Thanks

There are 4 others.

Or you can google Ford Escape Hybrid Brake Failure

Mark Goldstein

June 12, 2007 1:03 PM

It never ceases to amaze me how people love to put down American companies. Whether it be Ford, hmm they invented mass production which the Japanese learned from us when we rebuilt them after WWII, Texas Instruments... lets see where did all those cacluators come from and so on and so forth. The idea is simple. Two companies worked separatly, had close to the same idea, are sharing technology and making the air better to breath. What a concept?


October 11, 2008 8:05 AM

The day I returned from a five day trip in Colorado, climbing 10K and 11K roads (and coming down the other side)my brakes failed. I took my 2006 FEH (with 22,800 miles on it) to the Ford dealer. They kept it two days and returned it to me saying something was out of calibration. The next morning I entered the interstate to go to work and they failed again. I drove it directly to the dealer. They kept it five days and said they did $2900 worth of work (on warranty). I don't have the paperwork handy but it was something like a new part and bleeding the entire brake system. I don't have any confidence in the vehicle. Ford claims there are no reports of significant issues with the ABS in the 2006 FEH. I'm thankful they didn't fail when I was rolling off some of the peaks in Colorado. Hope you all fare as well.


January 13, 2010 1:42 PM

From Italy it's very simple.
(I'm not Toyota's or Ford fanatic)
I think Toyota was the first to mass-build one interesting type of hybrid and Ford was the second-at-world.
Better than all other car makers.

Putting that system on a heavy SUV, is not innovative, is silly.

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