While everyone waits and wonders whether former Tonight Show host Jay Leno can work his magic during prime time, Ford Motor Company has signed on in an unusual partnership that will have celebrity drivers racing battery-powered versions of the automaker’s Focus sedan.
The Green Car Challenge will be conducted on a special track built behind the Burbank, California studios where Leno – an unabashed auto fanatic – will tape his five-night-a-week comedy and entertainment extravaganza, “The Jay Leno Show.” The first Challenge will be staged on September 18th.
A total of four Focus EVs, which won’t reach the retail U.S. market until 2011 at the earliest, will be used in the publicity stunt, and the automaker is hoping the regularly televised series of celebrity eco-grudge matches will help it establish an image as one of the industry’s green leaders.
Ford was the first of Detroit’s makers in bringing conventional hybrid-electric vehicles to market. And it plans to move into the battery car segment, as well, starting with a version of its new Transit Connect van, which will reach showrooms in 2010, with the Focus EV to follow a year later.
Industry analysts are uncertain about the potential demand for battery cars, considering their limited range, long charge time and excessive costs, so giving the Focus access to an audience expected to top five million could be a major force in improving consumer perceptions, according to Ford officials.
“Having our Focus battery electric vehicle on the show is a great way to demonstrate how fun to drive these cars really can be,” said Lisa Drake, chief engineer, Ford Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicle Programs, in a corporate statement. “Beyond the immediate excitement of driving, it demonstrates that Ford is investing in this technology and that we’re committed to electric vehicles.”
As for Leno, he maintains a collection that, by some estimates, exceeds 200 vehicles, ranging from dusty, unrestored Duesenbergs to a series of Pebble Beach Concours winners. While the collection is not exactly green, the comic has expressed interest in eco-friendly technology.
I wanted to build a modern car that didn’t run on fossil fuel, but (also) didn’t drive like a Prius,” he said, several years ago, explaining his partnership with General Motors in the development of the one-of-a-kind EcoJet.
The 2-seat supercar is powered by a jet turbine engine and runs on bio-diesel fuel, and much of the material used in its construction – even the paint – are relatively eco-friendly. To a degree, anyway. The 650 horsepower EcoJet, Leno conceded, during an interview, probably could only go on the road “during harvest season,” because when pushed to the limits, it would take the output of a large farm to keep it running.