Ford Focus Electric
Ford started shipping the Focus Electric in May 2012, a full year-and-a-half after the Nissan LEAF went on sale. For those looking for a pure electric car, the availability of the Focus Electric finally provided a point of comparison. (Other models, such as the BMW ActiveE and Honda Fit EV are only available in limited numbers for lease. The Mitsubishi i, a subcompact, is not a fair comparison.)
The key questions in play: Did Ford’s cautious decision to lag behind the LEAF allow the company to offer a better EV? Or is its tardiness a sign of its lack of commitment to fielding a competitive electric car?
The most immediate distinction between the Focus Electric and the LEAF is in the looks department. As I pointed out in my New York Times review of the Focus EV, the LEAF’s “wide rear end, bulging headlights and odd proportions evoke a Japanese gizmo aesthetic that doesn’t necessarily appeal to mainstream American car buyers.” On the other hand, the electric Focus has the same handsome appearance as the gas-powered version. Focus Electric drivers are not likely to attract quizzical stares from passers-by.
The electric Focus is nearly identical to the gas version in appearance. One minor—but damn cool—tweak in the Focus’s body is the blue light that circles the fueling door on the left side, where you plug in the car. It shows charging progress at a glance from a distance by illuminating successive sections of what serves as glowing state-of-charge pie chart.
In terms of core electric drive technology, the efficiency of the Focus Electric and the Nissan LEAF, and the resulting driving range, are essentially the same. According to official EPA ratings, The Focus Electric’s 23-kWh battery pack issues 76 miles of driving range on a single charge—while the LEAF’s 24-kWh pack dishes out 73 miles. That makes the Focus more efficient, but the difference is negligible—that is, until harsh summer or winter temperatures take their toll. In summer 2012, LEAF drivers in Arizona complained of a loss of battery capacity on extremely hot days.
But Ford opted to utilize an actively liquid cooled and heated battery pack allowing for stable battery operation over a wide range of temperatures. (The LEAF is passively air-cooled.) It might be a full year before we know if the liquid cooling makes a difference—but it should.
The Focus’s slightly better efficiency numbers do not come at the expense of performance. The Focus, in fact, employs a 107-kilowatt (143 horsepower) motor, compared to the LEAF’s 80-kilowatt (110 horsepower) motor. I especially felt the difference in power on the highway, as Ford tuned the Focus more for high-speed advantage, rather than for jumping quickly off the line. The Focus is also quieter than the LEAF. Ford engineers told me that they went to great lengths to reduce motor and road noise by adding sound damping.
From Day One, we know that the Focus has a big advantage over the LEAF in terms of charging times. This is a big deal. The Focus EV’s 6.6-kW on-board charger adds about 20 miles of range for every hour of charging—compared to the 10 miles supplied by the LEAF’s 3.3-kW charger. Nissan is expected to erase this advantage in 2013, when it introduces the faster charger on the LEAF.
These are pet peeves, but as I reported in The New York Times, the packaging of the batteries is less forgivable. Some are placed where the regular Focus’s gas tank would be, but the main battery pack is under the liftgate, reducing cargo space by 39 percent, to just 14.5 cubic feet. Don’t expect to fit more than few bags of groceries into the hatch.
Slow Rollout, Lack of Commitment
Since the release of the Focus Electric in May 2012, the company has been accused of a lack of commitment to selling the model. The numbers tell the story: Through July, Ford sold just 135 units. Part of that could be explained by the price. The Ford Focus Electric has a base price of $39,995 — minus a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $2,500 rebate in California. That puts its tab at $30,000, a couple of thousand bucks above LEAF, and as much as $7,000 higher than the upscale gas-powered Focus Titanium.
Despite reports about a coordinated marketing effort to roll out the Focus Electric, I repeatedly hear stories about sales staff having no information about the vehicle—and in fact, discouraging people from buying one. A friend in Los Angeles called Ford’s dealership in Santa Monica—a red hot hotspot for EV adoption—but couldn’t get any information from the dealership about buying a Ford Focus Electric, despite making it crystal clear that he was a customer with cash in hand and ready to buy. Maybe that's just one anecdote, rather than any sign of trouble.
In 2011, Ford Motor’s chairman Bill Ford expressed doubts that a ground-up electric vehicles would appeal to enough consumers. He worried that the company would need to put big incentives on a dedicated EV in order to “shove them out the door, somehow."
In early 2012, Ford CEO Alan Mulally indicated that selling fewer than 5,000 Focus Electrics by the end of 2012 would still be considered a success. "We believe that the electrification of vehicles is going to continue as the battery cost comes down, as we move to generate electricity cleanly," said Mulally. "We see this as continually growing. This is a long-term journey."
Ford introduced the electric version of the new Focus only in California, New York and New Jersey—before it expands distribution to 19 additional markets in the fall. Those 19 major markets include Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C. The rest of the US will have to wait even longer.
Ford Focus Electric Stats
- Availability: Now
- Base MSRP: $40,000
- Est. tax credit: $7,500
- Technology: Electric Vehicle
- Body type: Sedan
- Range: 76 miles
- Battery size: 23 kWh
- Charging rate: 6.6 kW
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