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Auto blogThu, 02 Jan 2014 10:58:00 EST
Solar energy might not be enough to power a usable electric vehicle on its own, but that doesn't mean it can't lend a helping hand. And that's what Ford has in store for the Consumer Electronics Show opening next week in Las Vegas.
Ford has essentially taken its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and fitted it with the latest in solar panel technology developed by SunPower, acting like a magnifying glass to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible. So you get the benefit of an electric vehicle, with the range assurance of a hybrid, without needing to draw from the grid.
Ford estimates that a day of charging in the sunshine will give the C-Max Solar Energi concept the same full charge as the production PHEV, with a total range of 620 miles - 21 of which can be run on electric power alone. Otherwise the vehicle - which remains a concept for the time being - is identical to the existing C-Max Energi. The top-selling model in Ford's growing hybrid and electric vehicle portfolio helps put Ford just behind Toyota among the top seller of hybrids in America. Scope out the images in the gallery above and the video clip and press release below for a closer look.
Most domestic automaker assembly plants traditionally take a couple of weeks off during the summer. The shutdowns give each plant time for much needed repairs and maintenance, and in some cases, help better align production with demand. Not this year, though, as demand for many models is outstripping what Ford, Chrysler and General Motors plants can produce.
Ford has announced that it will shorten its annual summer shutdown for most North American plants from two weeks to one. The shorter shutdown will increase the carmaker's annual North American production by 40,000 units on top of the 200,000 extra units that it was already planning to produce this year versus last. Automotive News reports that Ford produced 2.8 million vehicles on this continent in 2012, and that output this year has already increased 13 percent through April.
Chrysler, meanwhile, is also operating at full tilt and plans to run some plants through the summer with no shutdown at all. Those not getting a break include Jefferson North where the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are assembled, Toledo North that will assemble the new Cherokee, and Conner Avenue, home of SRT Viper production. Other assembly plants will be down for a single week, while all of Chrysler's engine and transmission plants except one in Indiana will continue operating with no shutdown this summer.
Let's start with some history: Ford's Dearborn truck plant, part of the company's massive River Rouge complex, was the center of a strike in 1941 that led to Ford signing the first "closed shop" agreement in the industry. The agreement obliged every worker at the plant to be a dues-paying member of the United Auto Workers. In December 2012, however, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation making Michigan a right-to-work state, which outlawed closed shops. The new law gave workers the right to opt out of union membership and stop paying dues even if they were still covered by union activities like collective bargaining. For employees at the Dearborn plant, the right-to-work clauses take effect at the end of their current contract in 2015.
As a tool-and-die maker at Ford's Dearborn plant for 16 years, Todd Lemire pays dues to the UAW - about two hours' salary per month. However, he's been unhappy with the UAW's support of the Democratic party, and not wanting to wait until next year to be out of the UAW entirely he invoked his Beck Rights, which state that a non-member of a union does not have to pay dues to support non-core activities, such as political spending. But Lemire wasn't happy that Ford still subtracted the total amount of dues, with the UAW reimbursing the difference, so he filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board, feeling that the workaround violates his rights.
Lemire's case is just a week old, so it could be a while before a resolution. Yet, as September 15, 2015 draws near and the right-to-work laws take full effect for Michigan workers - and others wonder whether it could help revitalize the state's manufacturing base - a case like this adds more fuel to the discussion.