Join Date: Mar 2001
Driving the Ford Edge HySeries Concept (Edmunds.com)
Driving the Ford Edge HySeries Concept (Edmunds.com)
Mixed motivations in Ford's understated fuel-cell plug-in hybrid
After spending time in the Ford Edge HySeries, we don't know whether we should give Ford a congratulatory pat on its collective shoulder or a smack upside its big, thick skull.
We find ourselves in this quandary after having taken the company's one-of-a-kind Edge HySeries fuel-cell/plug-in hybrid prototype for a spin on Chicago's slush-covered streets.
We give credit to any company that would let a journalist tool around in its priceless (OK, it costs around $2 million) hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid showcar on crappy public roads — the very showcar that would sit on the Ford stand the next day at the Chicago auto show.
Still, driving a fuel-cell prototype is an almost pointless thing to do. If all works well, then there isn't much to say. All worked well. So to Mujeeb Ijaz, who is the daddy of the HySeries as manager of Fuel Cell Vehicle Engineering, we say, "Congratulations. Your impressive technological achievement feels utterly mundane."
A box of futurism to go
The prototype HySeries drivetrain consists of a large box of lithium-ion batteries, two electric motors (one front and one rear), a kielbasa-shaped tank of compressed hydrogen and a mountain of electronic stuff, and it all combines to make the Edge HySeries prototype feel like a big golf cart.
Ijaz might bristle at that description. But the Edge HySeries is a very large and comfy electric vehicle. A golf cart is a very small and less comfy electric vehicle. Both operate quietly and smoothly, without any interruptions in the power delivery. Both feel like horizontal elevators.
The HySeries is a few orders of magnitude faster, more sophisticated and more expensive, but the main difference between this prototype Edge and a golf cart (or almost anything else) is that the HySeries is an electric car that recharges itself. Well, it does so most of the time, anyway.
It might seem like a minor distinction compared to a conventional hybrid, but it's not. Hybrids as we know them have typically used gasoline engines and electric motors more or less in concert to power a car. The Edge HySeries is a different variety of hybrid that uses only electric power to motivate its hefty 5,400 pounds (some 870 pounds heavier than a regular Edge).
The hydrogen-fed fuel cell is onboard only to recharge the batteries. Think of the Edge HySeries as a city with big electrical needs and the fuel cell as a coal-burning power plant. Now think of that power plant releasing into the air nothing but water vapor.
The plug-and-play drivetrain
The HySeries powertrain is a sort of plug-and-play concept for propulsion. Different components can be moved around or swapped out depending on the needs of a particular vehicle program. The power plant, for example, needn't be a fuel cell. It might be any kind of engine: a three-cylinder gas engine, a small diesel, a small turbine engine — anything that can generate electrical power.
This system (which we stress that Ford is not necessarily the first to conceive) is ideally suited to a hydrogen fuel cell. The primary advantage is the fuel cell's utter lack of harmful emissions compared with a conventional engine.
In this case, the fuel cell is also 50-percent smaller than it would be if it alone had to provide motive force for the vehicle. This reduces the fuel cell's cost and makes it easier to package the device in an existing vehicle.
In the Edge HySeries, the fuel cell is mounted under the front-passenger seat. The batteries are below the driver seat and the hydrogen tank goes under the center console. It's an elegantly packaged powertrain that doesn't steal any interior room — at least not when it's mounted in something as large as an Edge.
It's only when you pop the hood or lift the cargo floor that you see any packaging difference from a standard Edge. The engineless engine bay is nearly empty and the spare-tire well under the cargo floor is filled with cords and metal boxes.
It's not as if a full-size spare would fit in there anyway. Ford dressed the HySeries show vehicle up with 22-inch wheels similar to those from the Range Rover Sport. Why? Because they look good.
Well, it is a concept car, after all
There are a few other concessions to show business on the outside. The company has added big, black fiberglass fender flares to accommodate the big wheels; added Aston Martin DB9 door handles because they look slick; painted the tailgate matte black because, well, we don't know why; and then applied graphics to the outside that look like swimming jellyfish but are, in fact, supposed to look like two-prong electrical plugs.
You might also notice that the driver side of the vehicle has what appear to be two fuel-filler openings. The rear is for pumping in compressed hydrogen. The fuel tank holds about 10 pounds of usable hydrogen under 5,075 pounds per square inch of pressure. There's actually a pretty large hydrogen infrastructure in this country (so GM keeps telling us), but it might take some work to get it oriented to passenger vehicles. Luckily, Ford brought the Edge to us with a full tank.
The hole in the front fender is what Ford refers to as an electricity port. We might just call it a socket. Simply grab an extension cord from Home Depot and you can plug this baby into your garage wall socket. It can take either 110- or 220-volt power.
Theoretically, the batteries should never dip below a 40-percent charge, because that's the threshold at which the fuel cell automatically switches on to begin recharging them. On 110-volt currency, it would take 8 hours to recharge from 40 percent to full. You'd need 12 hours to recharge them from 10 percent to full.
How far does it go?
The powertrain delivers an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 41 mpg, with no tailpipe emissions. But drivers with short commutes (less than 50 miles per day) could see the equivalent of 80 mpg because they'd use mostly battery power and very little hydrogen.
Likewise, range is variable. The batteries alone give you only 25 miles of range, which sounds laughably short. Assuming you've got some hydrogen in the tank, though, the range could be as much as 225 miles. But that theoretical driver with a short commute could extend the miles between fill-ups to more than 400.
The Edge HySeries was running on half of its potential electrical power when we drove it because it hadn't been adequately tested at the higher level. So it felt slow and heavy, because it is slow and heavy compared to a gas-powered Edge. Other than that, it felt pretty much normal aside from a disquieting lack of an exhaust note and a slight hum from the fuel cell's compressor.
The conventional braking system has no regenerative capability (the ability to capture kinetic energy to help recharge the batteries) as many hybrids do. But neither does it have the herky-jerky braking performance of the regenerative braking systems we've sampled. The HySeries drivetrain does generate a small amount of battery regenerative power while coasting, however.
The rise of the plug-in hybrid
The plug-in hybrid appears to make sense in the way that electrical vehicles or fuel-cell vehicles alone do not. In the near term, it makes more sense to use a gasoline engine to generate the electrical power, as General Motors did for its Chevrolet Volt concept car from this year's Detroit auto show. In fact, GM's E-flex propulsion system that powered the Volt is essentially identical in concept to the HySeries.
The HySeries Drive system was also shown at Detroit, but not in the Edge that we drove. It was buried so deeply underneath the silliness that was the Ford Airstream concept that no one seems to have figured out that the Airstream even had a propulsion system, much less one as significant as this. The Chevy Volt was futuristic enough to garner attention but sober enough so that its plug-in powertrain became the center of attention.
The Volt became the media darling of the show. The Airstream was only a sideshow freak, and a missed opportunity for Ford to demonstrate that it can live on the edge of technology, so to speak.
So perhaps both a pat on the shoulder and a smack upside the skull are in order, then.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.