Ford, Microsoft Link Up to Make Electricity Smarter

Ford Focus Electric Car uses Hohm power grid monitoring system.
Ford Focus Electric Car uses Hohm power grid monitoring system.

New model introductions are the lifeblood of auto shows, and automakers at Wednesday's press preview for the New York Auto Show wasted no time in showing off not only their latest automotive creations but their technological innovations, too. Ford Motor (F) was first out of the gate, detailing a new system, developed in concert with Microsoft (MSFT), that will help owners of Ford's future electric cars to best determine when to recharge them.

Known as Hohm, the feature will debut in Ford's all-electric Ford Focus compact car, slated for introduction late next year. By coordinating electric usage online, Hohm will help car owners save money by managing all their home energy usage. Further, it should help utility companies manage the additional demands electric vehicles will place on the electrical grid.

"For Ford, this is a needed step in the development of the infrastructure that will make electric vehicles viable," said Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who made the announcement along with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, appearing via remote video. Ford and Microsoft have teamed up before to develop the Sync system that allows drivers to make hands-free phone calls via cell phones, get turn-by-turn navigation information, and more.

Increasing numbers of electric vehicles will have a significant impact on energy demand, Ford said, noting that charging an electric vehicle could double the amount of electricity consumed by a household at any given time. The companies believe that effective management of energy is critical for electrical vehicles to be a viable alternative to gasoline-powered cars.

Chevy Offers Hybrid-Style Mileage from a Gasoline Engine

Reducing energy consumption of a different kind was the theme behind General Motor's introduction of the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, a higher gas-mileage version of the automaker's new compact sedan, which goes on sale this fall. The 2011 Cruze Eco is powered by an 1.4 liter turbocharged engine with variable valve timing that GM says gets 40 miles a gallon in highway driving. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the Cruze Eco will get hybrid-like fuel economy without the added complexity and cost of battery technology, said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president Chevrolet marketing.

Chevrolet also unveiled the Cruze RS: The RS appearance package adds styling features, such as a rear spoiler and fog lamps, as well as an upgraded instrument cluster inside that features blue backlighting.

The Cruze, which replaces Chevy's venerable Cobalt compact car, was first introduced at the Los Angeles auto show late last year. It will be made at GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant, where the company plans a third shift, adding 1,200 workers to smooth the ramp up of production at the plant.

Volvo, which until earlier this week was owned by Ford, debuted its new S60 sedan, which arrives at dealerships later this year. The new S60 features a new safety technology that helps prevent car-pedestrian accidents. Known as Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, the system will bring the car to a complete stop, without driver intervention, at speeds below 22 miles an hour. A higher speeds, the technology dramatically reduces vehicle speed, Volvo said.

Ford sold the Swedish luxury car maker to China's Geely in a $1.8 billion deal that was completed Monday. It was the last unit of what once comprised Ford's Premier Automotive Group, which also included makes such as Land Rover and Maserati.