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Ford defends Territory electric steering

Feelings: Ford claims the electric steering in the new Territory (and next Falcon) matches the old hydraulic system.

Global product guru says Aussie SUV’s power steering matches hydraulic feel

25 Apr 2011

FORD’S global product chief has defended the company’s decision to replace its conventional hydraulic power steering system on all-new or upgraded models with a fuel-saving electric system, following criticism of key new models such as the redesigned Focus.

As GoAuto reported when we drove the forthcoming third-generation Focus in the US earlier this year, the fuel consumption and hi-tech parking advantages brought with Ford’s latest electric power steering system were overshadowed by a lack of steering feel, feedback, tactility and precision of the small car’s predecessors.

An electric power steering system (EPS) is being introduced on the Australian-built SZ-series Territory SUV, which reaches showrooms early next month, and is expected to be used on the upgraded Falcon due later this year.

Ford’s group vice-president of global product development, Derrick Kuzak, told GoAuto that ironing out the EPS bugs had been a long and challenging project going back to the mid-1990s.

“That transition from hydraulic to electric power steering was a really, really big move,” said Mr Kuzak. “And, trust me, we didn’t make it immediately. We had been working with Nexteer and a couple of other power steering suppliers to get to that level.

27 center imageLeft: Ford's electric power steering system on the new Territory.

“Our EPS had to be as good as our hydraulic system. And to do that there were something like 250 control parameters in the software algorithms that control the EPS (that had to be) tweaked to get that level of steering feel.” Ford began experimenting with EPS in the 1990s on modified Fiesta and Escort small cars, with initially “terrible” results, according to Ford Australia’s vehicle dynamics manager, Alex de Vlugt.

“Even five years ago the system was not deemed good enough for Ford Australia to adopt,” Mr de Vlugt told us at the SZ Territory launch in Melbourne earlier this month, “but things have moved on very quickly since then.” The EPS system on the Territory – and presumably the forthcoming Falcon facelift – was developed using the US-market Ford Mustang’s set-up as a starting base, but a Ford engineer told us “it is now unrecognisable from that”.

Mr de Vlugt added that it was not until he drove a recent BMW in Europe that he realised the potential in the feel and performance of an EPS system.

“We have committed to rolling EPS out across our entire portfolio only after we were convinced that it had good steering feel,” said Mr Kuzak.

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