Alan Mulally: 'It's like a Moon Shot'

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, August 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Alan Mulally: 'It's like a Moon Shot'


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

*****

Correction: Editor's note: This story originally stated that Alan Mulally was CEO of Boeing, rather than CEO of the Boeing Commerical Airplanes unit of the company. Newsweek regrets the error.

*****

Ford's CEO on the challenge of reinventing the automobile.

By the time he worked his way up from fledgling engineer to CEO at Boeing, Alan Mulally had revolutionized the design of commercial aircraft. As Ford Motor Co.'s CEO, he's now out to do the same for the automobile. He recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria about -energy efficiency and the cars of tomorrow. Excerpts:

People wonder, "Why is it that we can't move to a hybrid future now?"

First you need the new technology to make it happen. Then you need a systems solution--the infrastructure. Finally there's the economics.

What is the technological obstacle?

Batteries. Batteries today do not have enough energy per cell, they weigh too much, they have issues with charging and battery life, they have issues [with] durability, they have issues when it's hot or cold outside, and they have safety issues. And you need to get the costs down. In the vehicles today, anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 is the battery.

Are there any prospects for game-changing improvements?

The prospects go up with an increase in investment [in] R&D. As you increase investment, the time to find the breakthroughs decreases.

So why is the market not working to pour investment into this?

Because it's like a moon shot or any big development--it takes a more concerted, integrated effort. That's why we recommend to the government that there be a very focused effort on batteries. That leads us to the second part--the systems. Whatever we do, we need the infrastructure in place to be able to utilize those vehicles, charge them up in a timely manner. Not 12 to 16 hours, but four to six hours.

Now the economics.

Leaving out the Ford Fusion, most [all-electric or hybrid] vehicles cost substantially higher than people will pay. That's why you see governments trying to subsidize manufacturers or the consumer. And there's not enough money in the world to do this with subsidies. We need to get costs down.

But how do you expect to do this? …

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