Electricity as a power source for motor vehicles goes back much further than most people think. At the turn of the 20th century, about one-third of the several hundred motor vehicles in New York City were electric-powered.
In 1914 -- the year World War I began -- the president of the Minnesota Buggy Company wrote a letter to two men, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, suggesting that they meet and talk about the possibility of using only electrical power for mass-produced automobiles, rather than steam or gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines.
Having heavily invested in gasoline engines since the founding of his company in 1900, Mr. Ford thought about it but tabled the idea. And although electric vehicles are often used in specific sectors (such as golf carts and public transit), they haven't yet become a staple of the world's personal transportation.
But their day appears to be on the horizon. It's literally taken more than a century for the de facto control of motor vehicle transportation to begin to move away from oil and gasoline companies to alternative fuel suppliers, but that shift is finally taking place.
Ford has always been about transportation for the masses, so it would follow that the corporation -- a 109-year-old company based in Dearborn, Mich., employing about 205,000 people in 90 plants around the world -- should be in the front row of the stakeholders in this realm.
Now all the major car companies are developing electric-powered and hybrid vehicles. As for Ford, after more than 95 years, today the automaker has four categories of higher-mileage and electrified vehicles either on the roads or in development: cars with EcoBoost gasoline engines, Hybrids, Plug-In Hybrids and Battery Electric cars.
Click here to see photos of Ford's electric and hybrid cars.
The hybrids have been out there for five years. The company has several models, including SUVs, sedans, minivans and subcompacts, with hybrid gas/electric engine options.
Ford's EcoBoost engines are designed to inject a precisely metered amount of fuel directly into the combustion chamber. When this is combined with turbocharging, customers get better performance and make fewer trips to the gas pump, the company said.
The EcoBoost design will deliver the power and torque of a V-8 engine with the fuel efficiency of a V-6, Ford claims. Ford plans to deliver EcoBoost across the full range of its product portfolio, from small cars to large trucks, by 2013.
The earliest Battery Electric models will be ready for sale in 2010, with the others available by 2012. In a San Francisco demonstration on Oct. 22, the company rolled out an Escape Plug-In Hybrid and an all-electric Focus.