Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford closed out the SAE World Congress on Thursday with an endorsement of the future of electric vehicles.
"All the early cars were electric," said Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, at the engineers' conference. "They've been around really for the past century or so, but they really haven't had mass-market appeal."
But Ford said the automotive industry is rapidly changing.
Ford, an ardent environmentalist who worked for years to change the carmaker's culture so that it would embrace environmental goals, said new technology makes it possible to introduce electric vehicles that appeal to mainstream consumers.
"It appears that the biggest game-changer will be electric vehicles," Ford said during a speech in Detroit. "Our plan includes the introduction of five new high-mileage vehicles."
Ford said the automotive industry must introduce more fuel-efficient vehicles in order to meet the challenges of diminishing oil reserves, global warming and a desire by customers to spend less money on gas.
"The majority of our efforts are aimed at fuel-economy leadership," Ford said. "We want to provide affordable fuel economy for millions of customers."
Over the next three years, Ford plans to introduce a Transit Connect Electric commercial van, a Ford Focus electric vehicle, two new gasoline-electric hybrids and a plug-in hybrid.
Ford also said the company is committed to improving the fuel economy of all of its new vehicles.
This summer, Ford plans to launch the Ford Fiesta subcompact car. Ford has said it expects the Fiesta will get 40 m.p.g. on the highway and 30 m.p.g. in city driving.
Ford also is introducing technology in the car to help drivers get the most out of their vehicles.
On Thursday, Ford announced that the company is adding a new feature for the company's navigation software called Eco-Route.
Eco-Route will map the most fuel-efficient route to a destination and can help drivers achieve fuel-economy gains of up to 15%, the company said.
The feature is part of Ford's MyFord Touch, a new system that controls all entertainment, climate and information systems in the company's vehicle.
In addition to introducing new technology, Ford is gaining market share both in the U.S. and Europe. Ford's stock closed Thursday at $13.76 per share, up 41 cents from its close on Wednesday and more than four times higher than its 52-week low of $3.27 per share.
The company, which typically reports first-quarter earnings at the end of April, is expected to report a profit of 30 cents per share, according to a survey of 12 analysts by Thomson One Analytics.
"Nobody is getting cocky, or overconfident," Ford said. "Because, frankly, we've only taken baby steps on the long journey to where we really need to go."
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