2012 model will go head-to-head with Nissan Leaf when it arrives late this year.
Published: 12:00 a.m., Saturday, January 22, 2011
Ford Motor Co. will be the second major automaker to begin selling a mass-market pure-electric vehicle when the 2012 Focus Electric hits showrooms late this year.
No prices have been announced yet, but the Focus Electric is expected to compete head-on with the Nissan Leaf, which went on sale in December in a few states and will be available nationwide within the next year.
Leaf prices begin around $33,000, but federal and state tax breaks can drop the final price into the low $20,000s, at least for the first few thousand customers. The federal tax credit is $7,500, but the amounts vary for state incentives. It’s expected that the Focus Electric will qualify for these breaks, as well.
Unlike the Leaf, which is not a version of any other Nissan vehicle, the Focus Electric will use essentially the same design and underpinnings of the redesigned 2012 Focus gasoline model, which also goes on sale later this year.
Like the Leaf, the Focus will be a five-door hatchback driven by an electric motor that gets its power from an onboard advanced lithium-ion battery pack. Ford designed the battery in partnership with Japan’s LG Chem.
Also like the Leaf, the Focus Electric will have a range of about 100 miles on a full battery charge. But the 240-volt charging system that will be offered with the Focus, at a cost of about $1,500, will be able to recharge the battery in three to four hours. The Leaf’s 240-volt charger takes seven to eight hours and costs more than $2,000.
Another difference between the Leaf and Focus chargers is that the Leaf’s must be hard-wired into the electrical system in the owner’s garage or parking location, while the charger for the Focus will be portable.
It can be plugged into a 240-volt outlet, just like plugging in a clothes dryer or room air conditioner. That makes it portable, so Focus Electric owners easily can take it with them when they move, Ford said.
The Focus Electric is one of five new electrified vehicles Ford will bring to market over the next two years. The others include plug-in hybrids as well as traditional hybrids. The automaker already has hybrid versions of the Ford Escape compact SUV and the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ midsize sedans on the market.
Also featured on the Focus Electric is “value charging,” designed by Microsoft, which Ford says will “help owners in the U.S. charge their vehicles at the cheapest utility rates, lowering the cost of ownership.”
The car also will include a special version of the MyFord Touch driver-connect system designed for electric vehicles, and MyFord Mobile, which uses a smart phone application and website to let owners monitor charging and other functions of the car from remote locations.
“Focus Electric is the flagship of our new family of electrified vehicles, showcasing our commitment to offer consumers choice when it comes to fuel-efficient or fuel-free vehicles,” Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s vice president for global product development, said in conjunction with the introduction of the car at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“Its advanced powertrain will deliver significant energy-efficiency advantages and zero (carbon dioxide) emissions without compromising driving enjoyment. And its suite of smart driver-information technologies will transform the way customers think about energy usage and their transportation needs.”
Ford says the 100-mile range of the Focus Electric should be enough for the “majority of daily driving habits of Americans.”
Nissan has made the same claim for the Leaf, based on studies that show the average person drives about 40 miles a day.
The reality, though, might be different. I’m testing the Leaf this week and will write a separate report on it later, but just in my first day with the car, I was a bit nervous about the range.
The dashboard “fuel gauge” reported after about 30 miles of driving from my office to my home that I had only 37 miles of range left. Spontaneous trips to more than a few blocks away seem to be out of the question if the only charging opportunity is overnight at home.
There are lots of plans across the nation for the installation of public quick-charging stations, but there are few available yet. The Focus and Leaf use the same charging connectors and technology, so either one can be connected to a public charger. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which also arrived in limited areas in December, is compatible with those public charging stations, as well.
While Nissan plans to assemble the Leaf in Tennessee beginning in 2013, those cars now come from Japan. Ford, though, will build the Focus Electric in the same plant as the Focus gasoline model in Wayne, Mich. The production line will be powered, in part, by solar energy, Ford said.
The Focus Electric also will be sold in Europe, beginning sometime in 2013, but no production site has been named yet for the European version.
There is nothing funky or geeky about the Focus Electric’s appearance; it looks like a regular car. It will have badging identifying it as an electric model, though.
Some of the hybrids we’ve seen were intentionally given odd exterior designs to help proclaim their difference from gasoline-only cars. Surveys have shown that many hybrid buyers like that clear differentiation. They want their friends and neighbors to realize instantly that they are driving “green” vehicles.
Inside the Focus Electric, there is room for up to five adults, with bucket seats in front and a three-person bench in the rear.
The car has a single-speed transmission and a top speed of 84 mph — which is about the speed a lot of people drive on the freeway during my morning commute (although some go even faster when the police aren’t looking). The Leaf’s top speed is about 90.
The Focus Electric’s steering, handling and braking are much like those of the standard Focus, Ford says, as both cars use mostly the same steering, suspension and brake designs.
There is one big difference, though: the electric motor is very quiet, almost impossible to hear, unlike the gasoline engine in the other Focus models. The Focus Electric makes about as much noise as an electric golf cart.
Other standard features of the Focus Electric will include 15-spoke, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; a 60/40 split-folding rear seat; a Sony AM/FM/HD/CD/MP3 audio system with nine speakers and Sirius satellite radio; power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote; automatic climate control; push-button start; and a voice-activated navigation system.