Ford Unveils Focus Electric, Claims Better Driving Dynamics Than Other Electric Cars
After showing off the new MyFord Mobile smartphone app this morning—which will allow remote monitoring and control of all future Ford plug-in cars—Ford today used the International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas to unveil the final production version of the Focus Electric, set to be launched in 19 markets later this year. The Focus Electric will join a growing group of consumer-available plug-in passenger vehicles, including the already-on-sale 2011 Nissan LEAF and 2011 Chevy Volt.
Much like its closest competition, the Nissan LEAF, the Focus Electric will offer around 100 miles of range (depending on driving conditions) packaged into a five-door hatchback, as well as all the other benefits of driving electric cars including a near silent ride, incredible efficiency, a high degree of internet connectivity, and extremely low per-mile operating costs. But the Focus Electric will offer several features that the LEAF doesn't offer—and has been criticized for lacking—including:
- A higher speed on-board charger (6.6 kW) allowing it to be charged from standard "Level 2" 240 V home charging docks in half the time of a first generation LEAF—adding about 30 miles of driving range per hour of charging.
- An actively liquid cooled and heated battery pack allowing for stable battery operation over a wide range of temperatures and lower temperature-related swings in driving range.
- Highly customizable gauge cluster and center stack displays allowing drivers to make the information displayed work for them in whatever detail they desire—including battery state-of-charge and calculated driving range
Comparing a plug-in hybrid like the Volt to an all-electric car like the LEAF or the Focus Electric is tricky—although both types of vehicles plug-in, they are very different and target different markets. In any event, for comparison's sake, the Volt, like the LEAF, has an on-board charger of 3.3 kW, meaning the Volt battery also charges in twice the time of the Focus Electric. Granted this isn't a big deal because the Volt—being a plug-in hybrid—has a smaller effective battery size of less than 10 kWh, meaning even at 3.3 kW it can charge in about 3 hours. In a related announcement Ford also announced today that Best Buy will sell the charging stations for the Focus Electric, and then install them using the Geek Squad—all for around $1,499.
Although the Volt does have a liquid cooled and heated battery, based on the pictures below, it seems that Ford's EV driver displays are superior to both the LEAF and the Volt in many ways; I can't wait to get my hands on them and try them out. I've been digging the current generation MyFord Touch driver interface and the SmartGauge they introduced in the Fusion Hybrid a couple of years ago—together they provide drivers with a completely customizable experience and extremely useful diagnostics and coaching features. Regardless of old-school criticism from what appear to be non-connected drivers, in my opinion Ford is light years ahead of the rest of the competition when it comes to advanced driver interfaces.
For the Focus Electric Ford has heavily altered the MyFord Touch system, allowing drivers to customize the display on a case-by-case basis—altering it for the day's/week's/month's driving needs. "Consumers interested in an electric vehicle are more focused on reducing the impact their driving has on the environment,” explained John Schneider, Ford Driver Controls and Infotainment chief engineer. “Rather than minimize the realities of battery range and the need for more conscious trip planning in an electric vehicle, we’ve made it a core part of the ownership experience, giving owners the tools to actively manage how they can drive their car based on where they need to go.”
Given the relative lack of charging infrastructure currently, Ford says their MyFord Touch EV system will give drivers the tools needed to plan their trips and feel comfortable with the realities of their driving range. The system also provides what looks like truly helpful coaching advice about driver behaviors such as optimizing regenerative braking and accelerating without drawing too much energy. When I used these features in the Ford Fusion Hybrid on a five day test drive, rather than finding them annoying I actually found I started enjoying the game it provided—and I think many drivers out there will too. That's the genius of a system like this: it can make hypermilers out of even the most jaded among us.
Aside from these more tangible differences between the Focus Electric and its EV brethren, Ford is also claiming that the car has a better ride. "More than any other electric vehicle on the market, Focus Electric loses none of the dynamics and quality of driving a traditional car,” said Sherif Marakby, director of Ford’s electrification programs and engineering. “It shares many of the same premium components and features as its gasoline-powered counterpart, while delivering distinct efficiencies and a uniquely exciting driving experience.” I can't wait to get some time behind the wheel to see if this claim actually plays out, because, to be honest, both the Volt and LEAF are incredibly fun cars to drive. This is a feature the most EVs share.
There's no word on pricing of the Focus Electric yet, but that, more than anything else, will determine what kind of value all of these additions provide on the marketplace. For now what I can say is that the Focus Electric looks like a true competitor and will likely make LEAF fence sitters think twice—and may even cause some current LEAF orderers to give up their place in line.
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