Ford Unveils World's First Plug-in Hybrid Microvan, Completes Perfect Next-Gen Garage

By · January 09, 2011

The just-unveiled Ford C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid will hit the market in 2012—providing consumers with a plethora of drivetrain choices in one platform.

Coming a bit late to the plug-in party doesn't seem to have had any effect on Ford's electrification strategy—in fact, it only seems to have emboldened the company to enter it more aggressively. Case-in-point: after last week's announcements (here, here, and here) at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show about the impending release of the Focus Electric at the end of 2011, today Ford announced at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show that they would be bringing the world's first plug-in hybrid microvan to market in 2012—the C-Max Energi.

Based on the just-unveiled C-Max platform that Ford is bringing to the U.S. as it prepares to re-enter the minivan market in 2012, the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) will join a conventional gas version, a fuel-efficient, turbocharged EcoBoost version, and a non-plug-in regular hybrid version that Ford announced in conjunction with the PHEV announcement. Given all those platform choices, when the C-Max goes on sale in 2012 it will offer consumers more choice in drivetrain than any other vehicle on the planet.

Of course, the C-Max can't really be considered a full-size minivan—it's part of a growing class of vehicles called mini-minivans by some and microvans by others. This is a class that has existed in Europe and other parts of the world for some time now, but given the U.S.' obsession with all things gargantuan it just never took off here. Times are changing though and a platform that today is dominated by the lone Mazda5, will soon see other entrants. The C-Max Hybrid and Energi only have room for 5 passengers—meaning the term microvan is truly accurate. This type of platform is targeted at young, environmentally aware families—and I can tell you that as a member of one of those the idea of a plug-in hybrid microvan is enough to make me drool with anticipation.

“C-MAX Energi and C-MAX Hybrid will be perfect for families looking to maximize their hybrid car experience,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford's Director of Global Electrification. “Thanks to the versatile interior, these cars are going to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers who need room to grow.”

Although details about the C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid are relatively scant right now, what I can tell you is that Ford claims the non-plug-in hybrid C-Max will "deliver better fuel economy than the 41 mpg Ford Fusion Hybrid." If this is true, it represents a huge accomplishment and something that many American families have been clamoring for for years. A small-ish minivan/crosover that gets more than 24 mpg? Are you kidding me? Who wouldn't want that?

The C-Max Energi is also targeted to get around 40 mpg when running on gas after the battery is drained—"better charge-sustaining fuel economy than the Chevrolet Volt," as Ford puts it—and will deliver more than 500 miles of combined battery and gas range per tank/charge. Ford didn't say how far the C-Max Energi can go in all-electric mode on a full battery charge, or what the capacity of its battery pack is. What this omission may mean is that the C-Max Energi won't have the Volt's 35-40 mile all-electric range, but may be closer to the Prius PHEV's 13 mile all-electric range.

And if you're thinking that the C-Max looks conspicuously like the Ford Focus Electric, that resemblance is not merely coincidence—the C-Max is based on the same "C-car" platform that Ford has specifically engineered to be a flexible platform upon which to base a wide variety of globally-distributed vehicles. The C-car platform has been designed to modularly accept conventional gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric drivetrains, making it ultimately flexible and helping Ford bring development costs down along with easing manufacturing transitions.

Ford has been developing their plug-in hybrid platform for quite some time now, with a fleet of 21 Escape PHEV prototypes distributed across the fleets of 10 utility companies, the U.S. Department of Energy, the New York State Energy Research and Development Administration and the Electric Power Research Institute—so the C-Max Energi represents the culmination of those efforts.

The C-Max Energi will benefit from the same technology developed for the Ford Focus Electric, including an enhanced-for-EVs MyFord Touch driver interface and the MyFord Mobile smartphone app. It is also likely that Ford will leverage its new relationship with Best Buy to distribute and install "Level 2" 240V charging stations as they will for the Ford Focus Electric—although it's unclear if the C-Max Energi will even need a higher voltage charge without knowing what size its battery pack is. For now Ford is only saying the Energi will charge easily overnight on a standard 120V, three-prong outlet.

Seriously, a C-Max Energi in one garage stall and a Nissan LEAF (or a Focus Electric, what the hell?) in the other—to me that's the perfect garage. Give me four wheel drive in my PHEV and it's even better, but Ford says a PHEV Escape is still in the long term plan, so I may get that wish someday too. And with the rumors surrounding the unveiling of the Chevy Amp in Detroit—a Volt-based crossover—the PHEV crossover market may just get its first entrant as well. Sometimes I can't even believe that this is really happening. All I can say is it's about damn time.


· · 7 years ago

I wouldn't call this a microvan. I looks like a compact crossover SUV to me. I really like the styling.

· KeiJidosha (not verified) · 7 years ago

Yes, the AMP/C-Max PHEV will be the perfect garage mate to the LEAF/Megacity/Focus BEV in the other stall. I’ll need dual EVSEs. How Much? And 2012 like October 2011 or 2012 like December 30th 2012?

· · 7 years ago

Nick, I like your "perfect garage". :-) Except I'd personally prefer 4WD in the BEV and higher gas mileage in the PHEV. I "need" 4WD more for short trips than long trips. That's why I think my perfect garage (driveway in my case) would be a RAV4 EV with 4WD, and a PHEV Prius.

· Jack (not verified) · 7 years ago

NiMH battery?

· · 7 years ago

If I was the stylist at Ford, I'd *want* to make that huge "grill" appear as solid as it really is. Look at Honda's Fit EV for an example -- I think that if the platform needs to accommodate both EV and ICE drivetrains, then having a body color panel in place of the grill on the electric version would be a big sales PR help.

I hope they use a lithium battery pack, and that they get 60-70 miles of electric range.


· · 7 years ago

Ford did say that they are going to make sure the electric is here to stay this time. Ford is just going to continue to get better and better. I just hope it is quick and quicker that they flood the market with all electrics. If the Focus beats the Telsa Model S down in price to a working mans level, I'll drive the Focus unless the Model S is the same price. The Alaskian pipe line is going to drive the price of gas very high before summer and we all can use a break from gas that the all electric car will give us. Hurry up Ford and Nissan, we're depending on you.

· · 7 years ago

Mr. Davis I don't think comparing the Focus and the Tesla Model S makes much sense. They are very different cars. It would be like comparing an ICE Focus to a Lexus. The Model S is a high end luxury car that just happens to be an EV. Tesla wants to use the Roadster and Model S to achieve knowledge and scaling so they can release the "working man EV" as their third model. Tesla could even achieve profitability with the Model S. I sure hope they can do it. I would like to see another American car company.

· Abe (not verified) · 7 years ago

NOT A MINIVAN. Crossover, maybe.
Many of us are waiting for a Hybrid Minivan, I guess we will keep on waiting.

· KeiJidosha (not verified) · 7 years ago

@ Jack - C-Max "Hero" pdf on site says lithium battery for the Energi

· · 7 years ago

@ Jack and Kei, sorry I didn't say it in the article. Been busy and running around like a chicken with my head cut off at Detroit Auto Show. Yes, it is a Lithium Ion battery. In fact, all Ford hybrids, PHEVs and all-electrics are going Lithium-Ion in 2012.

· · 7 years ago

Abe, it's all semantics really. Call it what you want, it's still the world's first family-oriented functional small PHEV van. Although I do agree that the lack of sliding doors on the 5-passenger C-Max (which will be the hybrid) makes it more like a crossover—believe me, I struggled with what to call it too. The 7 passenger C-Maxes have sliding doors. I'd imagine that eventually the 7-passenger will alos be offered as at least a hybrid, and maybe a PHEV.

· Charles (not verified) · 7 years ago

Oh boy. If I can afford the PHEV that is the one for me. If not the Prius Alpha or the hybrid C-Max. I was really hoping to have a competition for my next car, and now it looks like my wish has come true.

· LakeCountyHybrid (not verified) · 7 years ago

My only question is, can Ford resist the temptation to do what they did with the Fusion, which is to load it up with so many extras that it makes it priced outside the range of your average car buyer. I have to have two cars, I cannot afford to have one be a fusion at 30k plus, and a mini van at 30k plus, GIVE US AN ECONOMICAL VERSION FORD!!!!!

· · 7 years ago

This is exciting. Seating 5+2 in a hybrid or plug-in, it's about time! I would like to echo one of the questions about when? Going on sale and taking orders in 2012 to be delivered in 2013? On sale spring of 2012 in show rooms and ready to purchase? My family car is starting to require a quart of oil between oil changes and the end is near. I'm considering a Mazda5 or the Rav4, something smallish that can seat 6 when need be. I'd lover to see a family car with mileage in the 40's. I'll take 13 miles of electric before the gas kicks in. That gets the kids to school, come home and charge before pickup again in the afternoon. I look forward to the details to come.

What the deal with the doors? The picture associated with the article shows 4 traditional doors. The link in the article over to the Ford website shows a car with sliders.

Excellent new and nice article!

· · 7 years ago

Where can I put down my $99 deposit?

After having thought of SUVs as planet killing monstrosities for years it is strange to consider buying one of these but it seems that this car could get past my conscious. Thank you ford.

· · 7 years ago

@dutchinchicago - Should we start a waiting list on If so, would you put your name down?

· · 7 years ago

On second thought, it may be a microvan. Does the rear door operate like this?

· · 7 years ago

Nice! Add an all wheel drive option to the plug in Energi trim and it would be perfect for me. I can see it parked in my garage next to my pure EV.

· · 7 years ago

Let me get this straight.

There is a C-Max coming to the US to seat 7, but only with an ICE?
The C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid will seat only 5?

I don't know if it's cool or not to post an article I read somewhere else.

If this is the case, I'm certainly less excited and back to square one about deciding to get something that seats 5 (or really 4 with 2 children car seats) or something with a third row to take a grandparent or other relative along for the ride instead of always taking two cars.

· evnow (not verified) · 7 years ago

Nick, Can you checkout if energi's trunk is compromised ? How much battery does it have ?

· evnow (not verified) · 7 years ago

Nick, Can you checkout if energi's trunk is compromised ? How much battery does it have ?

· · 7 years ago

Nick, do you know if the hybrid and plugin in hybrid version of the C max is the 5 or the 7 passenger vehicle? I know that the gas version of the C max sold in the US will be the 7 passenger but reading about the hybrid c max, several article seem to indicate that the hybrid and plug in hybrid cmax will only be 5 passenger cars. That makes the hybrid completely useless to me as I want a small vehicle that can hold 7 passengers a couple of times a year...

· · 7 years ago

evnow, They didn't have a version of the Energi I could look at or open the trunk on, so can't say whether or not trunk is compromised... but good point.

neoplasticity, C-max Energi and C-max hybrid are 5 passenger (+2 fold down small child-sized seats in back) for now (w/o sliding doors). Gasoline and Ecoboost version will be 7 passenger (with sliding doors). I agree, it is less functional than 7 passenger. I have been told by several Ford reps that the hybridization and electrification is only just beginning and in time will spread across lineup. I know, it's a carrot, but that's all I've got.

· evnow (not verified) · 7 years ago

"C-max Energi and C-max hybrid are 5 passenger (+2 fold down small child-sized seats in back) for now (w/o sliding doors)."

@Nick Are you sure ? The press release doesn't talk about the child seats. Also I read they will be shorter than c-max ice.

· evnow (not verified) · 7 years ago

@Nick This is what kickingtires says.

"Both cars drop the regular C-Max’s sliding doors and third-row seat for two rows and conventional second-row doors. This layout is already available in Europe sans the hybrid powertrain."

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

Unfortunately, I must have 4x4 or AWD for my driving circumstances, if this had it I would be at the dealer with $ today.

· · 7 years ago

evnow, that's what I was told by Ford folks. I think the +2 seats are an option. I can follow up with them to be sure. I could be totally wrong and I'm just going on what I was told in passing from PR folks as I was running from event to event. For now, assume I am wrong until I can prove myself right. I'm changing the article in the meantime to reflect the 5 passenger only seating.

· evnow (not verified) · 7 years ago

@Nick Nothing against what you wrote - just trying to get the info. I see half the blogosphere saying 7 and the rest saying 5. There is a lot of confusion. If you can, ask the Ford guys to clarify it and may be put out a communication.

· atpcliff (not verified) · 7 years ago


An SUV, van, station wagon, minivan, crossover, hatchback, are all the same type of vehicle, just in different sizes.

The BEST vehicle, overall, is a 4-door "hatchback", that can seat 5 people, or haul a bunch of stuff, or some combination of the two, and do so in a very economical manner.

There are all kinds of cars, and sometimes you need a specific vehicle for a certain purpose. If you don't, the 4-door hatch is THE BEST all-around car. That is why you see so many in them in Europe. It is also one symptom of why Detroit failed: In many market years, they did not offer one single model of this type of vehicle.


· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago


I can understand you may like 4 door hatchbacks but I know that focus group after focus group in American has said they do not like them here and I don't either. What they are is posers which Americans don't like. They seem like they should be useful in hauling things around but due to the slanted glass and low cieling they don't really offer that much more space than a car with a pass through rear seat which American cars have been offering. You can bring home a chair from a furniture store or a table saw from a friends house or a lot of things. That's why people buy SUV's. For the utility. The only thing a hatchback makes easier than a car is for putting a bicycle in the back and for that you can just get a bike rack and not get your car dirty. Hatchbacks also create a ton of sound echo inside due to the large slanted glass. They are an accoustic mess. If you like European cars so much just buy one but don't assume you know what everyone else in America wants.

· · 7 years ago

@Anonymous (not verified) "What they are is posers which Americans don't like."

No - Americans prefer to buy land barges. So, they don't need hatchbacks. No doubt, for a given size of car, hatchbacks are better utilization of space than sedans.

· · 7 years ago

@Anonymous, I've been buying hatchbacks for 35 years and won't even consider conventional cars. Yes, I find that I can fit large or awkward cargo in an otherwise small car and they have vastly better space utility for a given size, pass-through trunks notwithstanding.

Your focus groups don't speak for everyone. My preference would be that car manufacturers offer both hatchbacks and conventional cars so that we can make our own choices.

· Katherine Martin (not verified) · 6 years ago

I want a simple yet comfortable driving experience so I choose to go with luxury SUV.

· Don2 (not verified) · 6 years ago

This is a great demonstration of an issue that must be addressed soon.
Well analyzed!

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