The American auto industry is undergoing a rapid transformation and Ford is leading the way. With new fuel and emissions standards announced by the Obama administration and the Department of Energy (DOE) awarding grants that promote the development of vehicle-to-grid infrastructure, 2009 has been a pivotal year.

Ford is moving forward with new Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) that will communicate directly with the smart grid through a smart meter. The cars deliver dramatic fuel economy improvements and reduced carbon emissions without sacrificing the driving experience.

Besides the PHEVs, Ford is also introducing new Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV) and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) to the market. BEVs run solely on battery power and Ford plans to introduce a BEV commercial van. In 2012, the company will introduce its next-generation HEV and a PHEV model that is smart grid ready.

Introducing cars to the nation’s highways that run on electricity instead of gasoline requires a transformation of the country’s infrastructure as well. Ford has been working with electric utilities throughout the US in anticipation of this future need. Recently, Ford’s vehicle-to-grid communications capability was introduced to the company’s utility partners at the world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford’s PHEV are programmable, allowing drivers to determine when, for how long, and at what rate the battery should recharge. A driver could choose to program his car overnight, during off-peak hours, when rates are lowest or only when renewable power is available.

These specially equipped vehicles are able to communicate directly with the smart grid through a smart meter using secure wireless communications technology. The driver programs the car through a touch screen powered by an onboard computer. The technology is currently being tested in the Escape model in test programs run by Ford’s utility partners.

These utility partners have logged more than 75,000 miles on the hybrid test vehicles over the last two years. Ford is focusing on four major areas in its research: smart grid infrastructure, battery technology, vehicle systems, and on how customers interact with the vehicles.

“Electric vehicles are an important element of our strategy for improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions,” said Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman. “This vehicle-to-grid communication technology is an important step in the journey toward the widespread commercialization of electric vehicles.”

Ford is researching on how to speed up the recharging process in a way that benefits customers the most. Consumers will be able to recharge the vehicles at home through a smart meter but there is still work to be done that will determine how consumers will charge their cars when they are away from home. Developments in this area are moving fast but it will be awhile before charging stations are found regularly.

Ford expects to put $14 billion towards making its products more fuel efficient and environmentally-friendly. Ford is using the money to convert two truck manufacturing plants into car manufacturing facilities. The company says it will create around 35,000 “green” engineering and manufacturing jobs also.