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Retiring Ford Powertrain Boss: Electric Motors Are Coming

Richard Truett

DETROIT — Bob Fascetti, one of the architects of Ford Motor Co.'s EcoBoost engine line, announced his retirement for Oct. 1 as vice president of powertrain engineering. He is succeeded by 25-year Ford veteran David Filipe.

Fascetti, 55, who worked nearly 30 years at Ford and rose to the top powertrain job in 2013, spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett at the company's product development center in Dearborn, Mich., about his years at Ford and what's in store for the future of the automobile powertrain.

Q: Will automakers bring the design and production of electric motors in-house?

A: I think to a point, certainly. We'll probably do a little bit of both. The thing you have to remember is that we have a responsibility to the people in our plants to balance that with what the product needs are. Clearly, ​that is new work. And we need to figure out how best to do that in-house.

Is the auto industry already thinking about how to retool engine plants to produce electric motors, in terms of the space, people, machinery and the technology needed? Is it too early for that?

It's never too early for that. That's applicable as you move to new technology, and it's a very responsible question to ask.

Can today's internal combustion engine engineers make the transition to working on electric motors, or is that a different skill set?

It is a different skill set. But what's not different are customers' requirements. The good news is as we evolve from traditional powertrains to electrified powertrains, we've got very responsible training programs for both engine and transmission experts so that they can move into those areas. We've done lunch-and-learns where we have brought over powertrain engineers to the Ford engineering lab, where the electrification team works. They've explained what they do and how they do it. And people come on board because of that.

Looking back on the engines and transmissions that came out under your tenure, which are you most proud of?

The 6.7-liter Power Stroke is close to the top of the list — not so much because it's the coolest engine ever, but because of what it did for the company. To actually do that engine in-house, after we were purchasing the previous engine externally, was an extremely difficult proposition for us. But the 6.7-liter provided us an opportunity to produce an engine that was designed in-house at a much more affordable price for a very profitable vehicle.

And it enabled so many things going forward for us. So I'm proud of that engine because of the impact it had on what we were able to do, product developmentwise.

How did the Power Stroke change the way Ford approached engine design? Power Stroke preceded the EcoBoost engines — did it influence the EcoBoost?

We were able to design on paper, and then in product, what we set out to do. From that standpoint, when we moved from the 6.7-liter to EcoBoost, it might have spurred on that thinking — that if we set out to do this type of engine technology, we can make it happen. We have the smarts to do it.

Speaking of EcoBoost, Ford wasn't first with the technology but it was the first company to go all-in with variable valve timing, turbocharging and direct injection and downsizing. That strategy is now being used by automakers around the world. Did you think EcoBoost technology would be so influential?

At that point, I really wasn't concerned with what the industry might do.​ What we focused on was how could we provide the best product for the best price, given that we were going to add some technology. But the marriage of turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing was really good.

EcoBoost transformed the way customers think about engine size and performance. Why?

The feedback from customers centers on the low-end torque. What pleases the customer is how easy the vehicle moves at low rpms. At 1,500, 1,600 rpm, you have 90 percent of the torque available. The car just goes.

Will Ford engineers fresh out of school be designing internal combustion engines when they retire?

If your job is to provide powertrains for vehicles, the longer you stay, the greater the chance that you'll be working on electrified powertrains.

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Very interesting interview. The journalist (not the Ford executive) emphasizes the importance of EcoBoost tech, not just for Ford, but for the whole industry. Ford was the first automaker that popularized that tech.
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