Soon after Jim Farley became Ford Motor Co's marketing chief after 17 years at Toyota, he took a spin in a subcompact with Ford's new direct-injection, turbocharged engine.
"I couldn't wipe the smile off my face," Farley said. "I've never driven a Toyota like that, ever. The torque, out of that kind of displacement -- in this case a four-cylinder -- was shocking."
It is a good thing he feels that way, because one of Farley's first and most critical assignments as vice president of global marketing will be to sell Ford's engine -- dubbed EcoBoost -- to buyers bewildered by the ever-growing options in vehicle technology.
Ford sees the EcoBoost four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines -- which will be unveiled at this month's North American International Auto Show -- as a key part of a strategy to improve fuel economy, along with improved aerodynamics and lighter materials.
The 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan, out later this year, will be the first Ford with EcoBoost as an option. Ford said EcoBoost will give the MKS's 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 the power and torque of a V8.
Ford says the engine can deliver up to 20 percent better fuel economy and a 15 percent improvement in emissions without hurting driving performance. It is also promoting the engine as a less expensive alternative to hybrids and direct-injection diesels. Ford did not reveal how much EcoBoost will cost, but said customers can recoup their initial investment through fuel savings in two-and-a-half years, versus seven-and-a-half years for a diesel or nearly 12 years for a hybrid. EcoBoost is also ethanol compatible, Ford says.
With direct injection, fuel is injected into each cylinder of the engine in small, precise amounts, which improves fuel economy and power. The turbocharger uses waste energy from the exhaust gas to drive the turbine.
Casey Selecman, manager of powertrain forecasting for the auto consulting firm CSM Worldwide, said Audi, Volkswagen, General Motors Corp and others have had similar technology on US roads for several years now, but Ford is aiming for higher volumes. The firm hopes to put EcoBoost engines on 500,000 vehicles annually by 2013.
"I think this is really going to be a brave one. We're going to have to invest. We're going to have to tell customers how we're different," Farley said. "Direct-injection gas is really a technology that could be implemented in the millions. It's significant. It's broader."
Farley said US drivers are not as familiar with direct injection as drivers in Western Europe, who quickly embraced direct-injection diesels as a way to cut high gas costs. Many US truck buyers have also adopted direct-injection diesels, Farley said. Now it is his job to bring that technology to the masses.
"We need to simplify things for customers. As marketers, it's unrealistic to expect customers to understand high-pressure direct injection or forced induction in turbocharging," he said. "Let's face it. Ford is a populist brand. On a good day, when Ford works right, it's a company that democratizes technology."
Farley is an executive who democratizes marketing. The intense, mop-haired 45-year-old, widely credited with the success of Toyota's Scion brand, said he came up with Scion's marketing plan after talking to a security guard.
At Ford's recent holiday media party, which was held in the same complex where Farley's grandfather once worked in a Ford foundry, Farley skipped the hors d'oeuvres and huddled in a back room with one of the maintenance men so he could get an honest opinion of the new F-150.