Ford's Hybrid Chief Charges Forward
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
DETROIT -- Hybrid cars are a tough sell these days. Low gas prices have made it easy for consumers to get back in their gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles. The cars remain pricey compared with their more traditional counterparts. And if someone were still tempted, the state of the current economy would probably scare them off.
But don't tell that to Ford's hybrid chief, Nancy Gioia.
"Boy, what a time to be a part of auto industry," she said. "If you ever want to make a difference, it's a fantastic industry and fantastic time to be a part."
Gioia, 48, has been tasked with transforming the iconic American automaker into the fuel-efficiency leader in every vehicle category. Hard-charging and unwavering on her mission, she takes it all in with a sunny disposition.
In an industry dominated by men, Gioia has risen to become one of the most influential women in Detroit. She is a torchbearer of Bill Ford Jr.'s revamped vision of his family's company and an innovator.
Gioia, a fan of double-shot lattes, is also a flurry of facts and figures.
Want to talk about batteries? She'll list reasons why Detroit's automakers need a domestic battery cell supplier in 10 minutes flat. Next topic: Perfecting the plug-in electric infrastructure. She'll briskly carry on without skipping a beat.
"We have Southern California Edison, EPRI -- the Electric Power Research Institute -- Department of Energy," she said. "And we have now have six other utilities join the plug-in partnership to define the standards, customer expectations, billings and requirements. We aren't just working on paper. We've built 21 plug-in hybrids. About half of them built, we're delivering those across the country, sharing data, so that we can help the system get there."
Gioia, the daughter of two schoolteachers, says she never thought she'd end up in the auto industry. When she graduated from University of Michigan in 1982 with a degree in electrical engineering, Gioia had 15 job offers.
Yet, she took the one with Ford.
"It happened to be a real exciting time," she said. "Electronics were growing in cars from $500 worth of content to $2,000 in a five-year period. It was this great booming industry."
Along the way, Gioia has risen through the ranks. She oversaw the reinvented 2002 Ford Thunderbird from concept to production. And she most recently directed engineering for all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury passenger cars in North America.