Ford safety shifts up a gear with advances in technology
Ford seems to have got it right on a number of fronts. As Ireland and many parts of western Europe were lashed by gales and widespread flooding the company took to its test track at Lommel outside Brussels to demonstrate its latest in All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) and 4WD technology which can be a lifesaver in treacherous conditions.
And in the same week that world leaders were nearby in the Belgian capital ageeing on drastic cutbacks in emission levels from fossil fuels, Ford announced that it is to spend €4bn by 2020 to broaden its range of hybrid and electric vehicles.
Timely moves indeed but back to the test track and Ford's proving ground at Lommel where it was revealed that more and more drivers now want AWD as they feel safer and more confident behind the wheel even if they are not driving in rough terrain. AWD gives good traction in all conditions and over 12 per cent of all new cars sold now have AWD or 4WD technology with an ever increasing number buyers of large vehicles demanding this extra option.
Ford Mondeo, Galaxy, S-Max, Kuga, Edge and the Transit commercial can now be bought with AWD to give improved traction and grip on poor roads and in muddy and icy conditions. In test drives they behaved well on a not-too-difficult proving track. The new Ranger twin-cab has selectable 4WD, 2WD for the rear wheels in ordinary driving conditions and 4WD with high gear ratios for towing or low ratio for poor terrain, snow and ice. The driver can switch between front 2WD and 4WD at speeds of up to 120km/h.
Engineers have developed an AWD where power is distributed in milliseconds between front and rear wheel. There is also torque vectoring control (TVC) on Mondeo, S-Max and Edge which applies the brakes on the inner wheels to give greater control when cornering. In the high performance Focus RS, 70pc of power can be directed to the rear wheels in less than a blink and computers direct this to the wheel which needs it most to control traction.
Advances in braking and car handling is moving on to the next generation. Even the speed of your wipers and the outside temperature can now be monitored by sensors. The information is passed to computers which determine how your car will react to dangerous situations. The downside is that there is a cost factor and because of the extra weight, fuel consumption will suffer. On the eco front, Ford has said that by next year a Focus electric car will have a 100 mile range with a recharge time of 30 minutes. There are also plans to add 13 new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles to the company line-up by 2020, meaning 40pc of production will be electric or hybrid powered models.
l At the Belgian press day Ford also introduced an improved version of its compact SUV, the EcoSport, a vehicle which failed to impress when first launched. Ford came late to this growing segment of the market and took a vehicle on sale in Brazil to Europe to fill a gap.
Now it is much improved in handling and has shed the spare wheel which looked out of place mounted on the rear door. The seats are too small for average size drivers but on the plus side, the one-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 138bhp on tap is excellent. Ford executives say that the SUV/crossover configuration will account for 27 per cent of all passenger vehicles bought by 2020.