Ford was the first U.S. automaker to offer a hybrid, introducing the Ford Escape Hybrid crossover in 2004. It recently expanded its portfolio with the well-received 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

More recently, the company has announced plans for limited numbers of plug-in hybrids, as well as electric versions of its Transit Connect small delivery van and of the new 2012 Ford Focus compact.

Leading the charge is Nancy Gioia, who became Ford's director of global electrification efforts last year.

In her trademark red jacket, she sat down with to discuss Ford's work in hybrids, plug-ins, and electric vehicles following CEO Alan Mulally's speech at the Washington Auto Show.

Nancy Gioia, Ford's global electrification director

Nancy Gioia, Ford's global electrification director

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford delivers first Escape plug-in hybrid SUV

Ford delivers first Escape plug-in hybrid SUV

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

Your title is "electrification director"; what does electrification mean?

Nancy Gioia: It refers to all vehicles with electric drive, any place where using electricity to power the car lets us displace the use of oil. That includes the hybrids we have now, plus plug-ins and battery electric vehicles we'll introduce in the future.

There's a misconception that an "electric vehicle" is one that's only battery-powered, but that's not true. Every time the 2010 Fusion Hybrid runs purely on electricity, we show the consumer that it's gone into "EV Mode." But it's a tough message to get across.

How aggressive does Ford plan to be in bringing hybrid systems into its vehicles, and how fast?

NG:  Right now, hybrids are a little more than 2 percent of our North American production. By 2020, we expect electric-drive vehicles of all kinds to be somewhere between 10 and 25 percent.

Of that, we think hybrid will be 70 percent, plug-in hybrids 20 percent, and the rest pure battery electric vehicles. We think a lot of those BEVs will go to fleets, as well as to consumers with a very specific set of driving needs where range isn't such an issue.

What's the future of stop-start systems, which automatically turn off the engine when the car is stopped?

NG: We launched them at the end of last year on certain European diesels with manual transmissions, and we get 3 to 7 percent better mileage on the European test cycle.

Stop-start is a good, affordable next step, but we'll look for users who have a lot of stopping and starting in their driving cycle. [GCR suggests the Transit Connect delivery van; Gioia just smiles.]

Stop-start systems are coming; it's a timing issue. We think the substantial growth will come in the mid-2010s.

Why hasn't Ford built any cars with mild-hybrid systems like, say, Honda's Insight and Civic Hybrid?

NG: First, our surveys tell us the best cost-benefit comes from a full hybrid. Consumers place a premium on the ability to drive at least a little bit in all-electric mode. We see that more and more.

Second, the full hybrid architecture is completely shared with our upcoming plug-in hybrid. The only thing we have to swap out is the battery. Otherwise, it's the same hardware. That saves money and gives us economies of scale.

OK, so what about a series hybrid (or "extended-range EV") like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt?

NG: It's all about affordability. The plug-in hybrid has a pack half the size of a series hybrid pack. And as I said, we get economies of scale because it uses most of our standard hybrid hardware.

We look at a series hybrid and we wonder, Is there a sustainable business model for that vehicle?