Ford's Electric Cars: Starting Slow, and Waiting for the Market

By · November 02, 2012

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-MAX Energi: just hitting the dealer floor. (Ford photo)

Ford’s early sales results are in: Focus Electric, 112; C-MAX Energi, 5. The Focus EV has been on the American market since last summer, and the Energi plug-in hybrid just two weeks—only a few have reached dealers so far.

It’s not surprising, given these less-than-stellar numbers, that Ford would choose to focus on another, more newsworthy result: The larger-volume C-MAX Hybrid, in its first full month on the market, outsold the Prius V, 3,182 to 2,769. Of course, the V is only approximately 20 percent of total Prius sales, which overall swamps the C-MAX. But Ford sees the versatile V as C-MAX Hybrid’s best surrogate in the marketplace.

NOT a Compliance Car

C.J. O’Donnell is Ford’s newly appointed group marketing manager for electrification, and he puts the numbers in perspective. O’Donnell bristles when asked if the Focus Electric is, like the Chevrolet Spark and Honda Fit Electric, a “compliance car” meant to satisfy California regulators.

C.J. O’Donnell />

C.J. O’Donnell

“It’s not a compliance car,” O’Donnell said. “By the end of the year we will have six brand-new electrified products, which I think shows a commitment to electrification by the Ford Motor Company.”

But, says O’Donnell, Ford is “letting the electric vehicle market grow organically—we’re not forcing the volume levels, as some of our competitors have done. We’re using some incentives, but overall we’re being very measured and letting the market come to us.”

Obviously, with just 112 battery electrics on the road, the market is not yet beating a path to Ford’s door. The Focus may not be a compliance car, but right now it’s available at just 200 of Ford’s 4,000 dealers (clustered in California and other high-demand states). O’Donnell says that an additional 733 dealers are undergoing certification to sell battery cars, and then the car will be fully available in 50 states.

Big Plans for Plug-In Hybrids

Ford has big plans for the C-MAX Energi, which will be followed by a plug-in hybrid version of the Fusion in the first quarter of 2013. “Five is obviously a very small number, but there are only a handful of Energis in inventory and we have to start somewhere,” O’Donnell said. He confirmed that a new ad campaign for the C-MAX Energi will take direct aim at another member of the Prius family, the plug-in hybrid. Ford’s car offers 20 miles of electric range, compared to Toyota’s 12 or 13.

Ford Focus Electric

Battery electrics aren't yet a strong seller for Ford—just over 100 have been sold. (Ford photo)

O’Donnell added that electric sales so far appear to closely correlate with gas prices. The C-MAX Energi is rated at 108 MPGe, so that’s going to be very attractive at $4 a gallon and above.

When a $3,750 federal income tax credit is factored in, the Energi is $29,995, $5,000 more than the hybrid version. That doesn’t seem like a huge gap, but Ford is still projecting a slowly building market. Some 75 percent of its EV sales will be hybrids, 25 percent plug-in hybrids and just five percent battery electrics, O’Donnell said.

Learning About Electrics

“A lot of education about plug-in vehicles will be going on with dealers and consumers,” O’Donnell said. “We have to be patient and let this market emerge over time. There will be a time when there is increased demand for these cars, as people understand how they fit into their lifestyles.”

I get it. What else is Ford going to say at this point? It has a major corporate commitment to electrification—led by longtime enthusiast Bill Ford—but a realization that, for now, far more Americans are going to buy the country’s bestselling vehicle, the F-150 pick-up truck.

O’Donnell is right—the company’s six entries span the market, small as it is so far. The company, which on Thursday named Mark Fields as the new chief operating officer, with highly regarded CEO Alan Mulally to stay on through 2014, has other priorities—most urgently, fixing anemic performance in Europe.

In that regard, it would seem that Ford’s hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery cars would all have potential markets in Europe. O’Donnell says the company hasn’t yet shown its public plan for an electrified Europe, but it sees “growing demand for fuel-efficient platforms” there. Both the Focus and C-MAX are global platforms. O’Donnell, who came to his new job from Lincoln just two months ago, declines to say if a plug-in hybrid is in that division’s future.

Here's a closer look at the C-MAX Energi on video:

Comments

· Volume Van (not verified) · 2 years ago

Wow, C-Max Plugin has hit the market. Very few dealer would have got the vehicle and that's why fewer sales. Certainly C-Max Plugin will outsell Focus-EV since it has decent 20 mile range and no range anxiety and just 33K price tag.

It may also outsell Volt & PIP with above mentioned features. Plugins are the better choice between Hybrids & EVs. In the future Plugins will be having Fuel Cell instead of engine for longer range and people will be using battery for the shorter daily range.

Good to hear that Focus EV has sold 112 units. When Nissan can sell 1500 Leafs, Focus can also sell more EVs.

· mr23 (not verified) · 2 years ago

Ford itself is the problem with the electric Focus. Plenty of torque steer, almost zero rear hatch storage, and no availability. Try again before Tesla takes over.

· · 2 years ago

The C-Max is sick, rear foot sensor that opens the trunk, 33k price tag and the option of Hybrid or EV. Nice job Ford!!

· phil.manke@yahoo.com (not verified) · 2 years ago

Some pik-ats right away; Big vision blocking 'A' pillar up front combined with a tiny front door. Looks even smaller than the Leaf's. Battery too small and charging on 120V too long. (14 Hrs?) Deaign for offering a higher amp charging circuit on both voltyages. 70 mile range too short. I can guess the battery, and car, is very heavy.
Back to the drawing board, Ford.
I thot I wud get one of these, but I MUST PASS.
Make a two door for grown people!
How about offering some battery size options??
Get serious about E-cars and we'll get serious about buying them.

· phil.manke@yahoo.com (not verified) · 2 years ago

One more gripe--- loose the rock and snow scoop grill!!

· · 2 years ago

Glad Ford is offering better range than the Prius Plug-in, Someone told me its totally electric range is 6 miles if the engine never runs.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Can Ford hire a decent dashboard designer and take a glimpse at the Prius dashboard look. The C-max energi dashboard looks imported straight from the eighties. We are in the digital era so let see digital numbers instead of needles.

· · 2 years ago

"Some 75 percent of its EV sales will be hybrids, 25 percent plug-in hybrids and just five percent battery electrics, O’Donnell said."

That's some fuzzy math, Ford!

"Ford’s car offers 20 miles of electric range, compared to Toyota’s 12 or 13."

This concerns me a little. The PiP only has 6 miles of pure electric range. It has 12 miles of "blended depletion" range where the gas engine is on, but the car uses more electricity that usual. Is this the same for Ford? I've read previously that Ford says the C-Max has more than 3x the range of the Prius, which is more promising. 20 > 3x6. So which is it?

Overall, I am not convinced that Ford wants an electrified market. I'm pretty sure they want to do enough to get a green "halo" effect, without selling meaningful numbers of cars. I hope I'm wrong, and I'm looking forward to test driving a C-Max Energi when it makes its way to upstate NY.

· · 2 years ago

Oh, and FWIW, Anonymous, I hate the look of the Prius' dashboard. It's unnecessarily cluttered and feels more like a video game than a car. Distractions are bad in cars. I did drive a C-Max Hybrid, and I personally like the dash design. I assume the Energi looks the same.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 2 years ago

Brian,
Totally agree with you on the Prius dash. I don't like it in the middle. I just can't get used to it. And the info displayed on it is almost entirely useless except for the speedo and miles driven.

Also, I like the needles. makes it feel like a car. I wonder if anonymous is one of those people that has to have a digital watch because they can't read analog.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 2 years ago

Brian,
Totally agree with you on the Prius dash. I don't like it in the middle. I just can't get used to it. And the info displayed on it is almost entirely useless except for the speedo and miles driven.

Also, I like the needles. makes it feel like a car. I wonder if anonymous is one of those people that has to have a digital watch because they can't read analog.

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

“By the end of the year we will have six brand-new electrified products"
Focus Electric, C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi . . . and . . . ? They must be including hybrids. (C-Max and Fusion hybrids).

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 2 years ago

Spec, so whats the last one. You got 5. Not talking about transit connect electric right?

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Jesse . . . I dunno. Perhaps they are counting the discontinued Escape hybrid? Or maybe the Transit Connect Electric? Or maybe they are counting some Lincoln hybrid? Yeah, that's probably it . . . the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.

· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 2 years ago

Wow, totally forgot about the MKZ hybrid. You are correct. I like Ford too. That doesn't bode well for it does it? They will really need to step up on advertising it to sell it, especially if someone who likes Ford doesn't even remember it.

· · 2 years ago

Warning: Here comes my opinion:

I thought the C-MAX Energi dash was way better than the Prius. To each their own I guess. The C-MAX interior feels much nicer than Toyota (or the Volt for that matter). It has a really high build quality, and uses appealing materials (where the Volt especially is very hard-plasticy). Also, the gauges other than the speedometer are completely dynamic and customizable - both sides of the speedometer.

The Energi drives much nicer than the Volt in our opinion. We drove both almost back to back. The Energi was just a nicer experience all together.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Screw FORD waited to long for the Focus to come to the floor, looking at others car makers.

· Ktracho (not verified) · 2 years ago

Am I one of those 112? I have a hard time believing there are so few of us nationwide, though perhaps with so many leafs on the road and in the parking lot at work, and no other Focus, maybe it shouldn't be so surprising. Still, my Ford dealer only had two more 2012 Focus left, plus a few 2013 models. I was thinking of waiting for the C-MAX Energi, but they didn't know when it would arrive, and the price I got was the same as what the C-MAX Energi would have cost. I certainly don't miss having to go to the gas station! And my employer lets me charge my car for free.

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