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.

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