Ford Motor Co. focused on an electrified future

Andy Johnson, CTV.ca News Staff

Date: Friday Feb. 25, 2011 6:14 AM ET

In less than 10 years, the Ford Motor Company expects that 20 per cent of its fleet will be electrified — either hybrid or fully electric.

By 2025, just five years later, Ford expects that number to climb to 25 per cent, said Barb Samardzich, Ford’s vice president of global product programs. And of that 25 per cent, just over five per cent are expected to be fully electric.

Leading the fleet into that new era of electrified vehicles will be the Ford Focus — a vehicle that began as a lowly regarded economical compact in 2000, and has newly earned a reputation for good looks, dependability and a competitive price point.

And as of this year it will also come in three options: fully electric, hybrid or the traditional gas-powered version.

Samardzich was at Toronto’s Canadian International Auto Show to tout the Focus EV — the electronic version of the popular model, with the same sleek lines and looks and none of the dorky Prius-like stylings that were once emblematic of ‘green’ cars.

That’s important if people are to make an “emotional connection” with the vehicle, she said.

“The first thing that makes someone say, ‘Oh, maybe I should check that out,’ is the look of the car,” Samardzich told CTV.ca.

Once consumers are sold on the vehicle’s aesthetic, it becomes much easier to convince them of the other benefits — like the fact it doesn’t use gasoline and has zero emissions, for instance.

The sleek model unveiled at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto looks good, and if Ford is to be believed, it will be one of the most advanced electric cars on the market.

“The zero-CO2-emissions, gasoline-free version of Ford’s popular small car is the flagship of the company’s growing fleet of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles coming to North America and Europe by 2013,” stated a press release from the company.

Ford says the EV will get better mileage than the Chevrolet Volt, will charge in as little as three hours — half the time the Nissan Leaf requires — and will come with a smart phone app for monitoring functions and charge settings, while mobile.

Derek Kuzak, Ford’s VP of global product development, said the car is a game-changer that will “transform the way customers think about energy usage and their transportation needs.”

Jil McIntosh, a contributor to the Toronto Star’s Wheels section and an automobile journalist of nearly 30 years, said history will definitely look back on 2011 as a key year for the electric car movement — marking the first time plug-in cars like the Focus and LEAF became available on showroom floors.

But she doesn’t think electric cars will change the world. At least not right away. McIntosh believes electric cars will remain a niche market until a few key changes take place.

“I think the major problem is that gas is too cheap,” she told CTV.ca, pointing out that fuel costs are double, or even triple, in Europe, where hybrid and fuel-efficient cars are most successful.

“You’ve got the government of Canada and the United States giving rebates, putting electric vehicles in their municipal fleets, putting charging systems in across the country, but the one thing they will not do, because it’s political suicide, is raise the price of gasoline.”

McIntosh said she used to believe it would take just one clever idea to forever change the auto industry. But now her perspective has changed. People’s needs are so diverse, and the capabilities of hybrids, electric and gas-powered cars are so varied, that no single option will work for everyone.

As a result, while new technologies like electric cars add exciting possibilities to the industry, they aren’t likely to force any of the others into obsolescence.

“You will always have the people who want one just because it’s trendy and it’s the latest and greatest, and basically the equivalent of the iPad,” she said.

“But people want two things out of transportation: they want it to be convenient and inexpensive.”

Hybrids are convenient, but they’re expensive compared to their gasoline-powered equivalents. Electric cars are also at a higher price point, and with a charge time of several hours, few charging stations and limited range, they just aren’t convenient for many people.

Until that changes, the industry isn’t going to experience a major shift to one type of product change, McIntosh said.

Instead, she predicts a future where homes on a residential street will have a mix of vehicles each best suited to the owners’ needs, from big work trucks to electric cars, minivans or even bicycles.

“I think the future of the auto industry is to make a wide variety of options available and for people to purchase the option that works best for them and in some cases that might be no car at all, it may be car sharing or public transit,” McIntosh said.

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