Ford Focus Electric Likely Won't Support DC Fast Charging at Launch

By · January 29, 2011

If you've been following the news about the upcoming Ford Focus Electric, you've likely seen Ed Begley Jr. junior acting as a pitch man for the vehicle. One of the loudest selling points that Ford has Begley Jr. espouse to set the Focus Electric apart from its only all-electric competition—the Nissan LEAF—is that the Focus charges at twice the speed of the LEAF. Turns out, that point is a bit disingenuous.

Yes, It's Technically True That the Focus Electric Charges Twice as Fast as the Nissan LEAF, But...

The difference in charging between the two vehicles when it comes to home charging speeds lies in the fact that charging rates for this type of charging are regulated on-board a given electric car. The first generation Nissan LEAF is equipped with a lower speed charger; Nissan has admitted this was a mistake and has promised to fix it by the next generation of LEAF, due at the end of 2012.

Yet, while it's true that the first generation LEAF is only capable of adding 15 miles of range per hour from what's called a "Level 2" home charging station, whereas the Focus can add about 30, what this fails to take into account is that the LEAF supports incredibly high speed DC fast charging—which can add about 80 miles of range in a half hour of charging. To this point it was unclear whether or not the Focus Electric would support DC fast charging at launch. But based on conversations I've had in the last week with Ford representatives, it appears rather certain at this point that the Focus Electric will hit the market without support for DC fast charging.

"The Ford Focus Electric is focusing on Level 2 charging (240 Volt), and with an onboard charging system that allows a full charge in just over 3 hours (half the time as the competition), this will be the most practical solution for our first generation," said Dan Pierce, Ford Motor Company Communications, in email communications with PluginCars.com.

So Why the Lack of DC Fast Charging Support?

For those that are unaware, DC fast charging (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Level 3" charging) uses industrially-rated, gas pump-sized stations with firehose-like cables and plugs to dump electrons directly into a battery. Right now there is only one DC fast charging standard available for companies to adopt—a largely Japanese-led effort called CHAdeMO. By the time the Ford Focus Electric hits the market there will likely be about 400 CHAdeMO-compliant DC fast charging stations scattered throughout the early launch markets of the EV Project.

So great, you might think, DC fast charging seems really promising, let's just get a move on... but you'd be wrong. The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), the largest automotive standards organization in the U.S., has been working on its own DC fast charging standards for quite some time now and has yet to come to a conclusion about what standard it will use. The organization is being pulled from competing directions and at this point it doesn't look promising that a standard will be approved anytime soon. The latest news is that the committee at SAE in charge of these standards wants to develop a completely new standard that incorporates both Level 2 and DC fast charging into the same plug format—which could take years.

It is this indecision on the SAE's part that seems to be the deciding factor in the lack of DC fast charging support in the first generation Focus Electric. "We have not announced our plans for fast charging yet, but we are interested in an industry standard, and not a Ford unique solution," said Pierce. "Fast charge will not be included on the Focus Electric until an industry standard has been set by SAE. Once an approved/accepted standard is in place, we will work on getting the car ready for [it]."

What this implies is that Ford doesn't think the CHAdeMO standard is either approved or accepted. But both Nissan and Mitsubishi have incorporated it fully into their product strategies, and as I indicated above, by the time the Focus Electric comes to market there will likely be 400 CHAdeMO-compliant charging stations across the US—and because most of them are part of the EV Project, the US government is funding the installation of a few hundred. Other states, and many large municipalities, are installing them by the dozens as well.

The fact that the SAE is dragging its heels on the DC fast charging topic is what drove everybody else to go with CHAdeMO in the first place. In the end SAE will likely be forced to adopt CHAdeMO anyways and it seems that a company like Ford is shooting itself in the foot by not supporting it from the get go.

Is it a Deal Breaker?

Why is it that nobody can get it exactly right this first go around? A high speed Level 2 charger and support for DC fast charging... is that really too much to ask? On the Focus Electric it would be a relatively easy thing to add to the car where the gas cap is currently located on the combustion version.

Granted, for some people the lack of DC fast charging isn't a big concern, but if you're thinking about future resale value and functionality as the DC fast charging network grows then the first gen Focus Electric misses the mark. Also, if you live in the boondocks like I do and your state is building a fast charging network specifically so you can get across the mountains to Seattle, the lack of fast charging support is a deal-breaker. Adding something like a higher speed Level 2 charger is a relatively simple thing current LEAF owners will likely be able to do for a modest fee when it becomes available, but adding DC fast charging support to the Focus later on will take a feat of monumental cost and effort—so it's not like you can just correct the problem as time goes on.

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