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Ford's pure-electric plug-in Focus, shown here, is being developed with the help of supplier Magna International and hopes to hit the market in 2011  (Source: Detroit News)

A production version of the prototype Ford Escape Hybrid Plug-In variant, seen here, will be delivered by Ford in 2012.  (Source: USA Today)
Ford Focus pure electric will land in 2011, plug-in Ford Escape Hybrid will land in 2012

Ford seemed reticent to jump onto the electric car scene.  Instead, over the last year it focused on key fuel saving and performance technologies like dual-clutch shifting, direct injection, and hybrids.  Its hybrids include the new Ford Fusion Hybrid which boasts great gas mileage thanks to its revamped hybrid powertrain.

Meanwhile, Ford's domestic competitors prepared to jump onto the electric car scene.  GM has high hopes riding on its Chevy Volt plug-in, while Chrysler has two converted models and an electric roadster in the works.

After months of talks with Magna International Inc. over a partnership to produce an electric vehicle, Ford finally privately decided to jump on the electric boat.  What really convinced Ford, its executives revealed, was a surprise from its partner Magna.  In September, Magna pulled up to Ford in Dearborn, Michigan in a fully retrofitted plug-in Focus, something Ford had no idea they had finished.

"It was a phenomenal car.  We were highly, highly impressed," said Ford’s Lisa Drake.

Today, Ford made its plans public with Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. announcing that his company is getting into the electric vehicle business according to Detroit News.  Ms. Drake will be leading Ford's half of the new efforts.  She says that the soaring gas costs, which went up to $4/gallon over the summer, were a key reason Ford decided to go electric.  And she expects gas to go back up in the future, "We were modeling $10 a gallon. We were modeling $12 a gallon.  We decided we need to be ready the next time this comes around."

However, while Magna might have convinced Ford that it was time to bring the technology to production, Ford has been quietly working on electric cars for a long time under the codename "Project M".  The project saw a partnership with Southern California Edison and the Department of Energy to retrofit test fleet of Ford Escape Hybrids to plug-ins in 2007.  However, Magna's aggressive development of its plug-in technology and the soaring gas prices convinced Ford to take the tech from the test track to the streets.

Last spring, Greg Frenette, the head of Ford's zero emissions vehicle programs, announced to his team that they would be delivering a new production hybrid by 2012.  The new hybrid will be a plug-in iteration of the Escape Hybrid which Ford has been selling since 2004.  The new model can plug directly into the wall and can go up to 40 MPH before having to burn gasoline.  The fuel economy figures for the vehicle under optimal conditions are 120 MPG in city driving tests and 70 MPG on the highway.  Mr. Frenette states, "[The announcement] gave [my engineers] a sense that this was more than just an academic exercise.  But this is what we're supposed to be doing. Moving this into production is what this is all about."

However, Ford isn't stopping there.  In addition to its plug-in hybrid, its partnership with Magna will deliver a new battery-only vehicle based on Ford's global Focus platform, due out in 2010.  It will not have a gas motor and will feature a range of 100 miles on a charge which is plenty for most Americans, says Ford.

Not all are convinced that Ford's electric foray will see success, though.  Analyst Jim Hall of Analytics LLP in Birmingham, MI states, "There still is not a viable market for a pure electric vehicle because of the range limitations.  It's psychological. They're going to have to re-educate consumers." 

However, he does see some benefits for Ford.  He states, "Building electric vehicles gets the emissions monster off their backs, and it also helps their fleet fuel economy average in a big way."

The new electric vehicles will help Ford meet the stricter "California emissions" that multiple states are expected to soon adopt, courtesy of President Obama's push to allow states the right to regulate their own emissions standards.  And whatever critics may say, Ted Robertson is convinced that Ford and Magna are a match made in electric heaven.  He says Magna could have built the whole vehicle if they wanted.  He adds, "Magna wants to be a leader and in the forefront of any new technology being developed.  There are very few suppliers who can do a whole vehicle and Magna is one of those. It was a great marriage."



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RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By Doormat on 2/3/2009 11:43:11 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know if all-electric vehicles will work for the general consumer in the next 25-50 years. The constraint is recharging quickly - short of superconductors plugging into your car, you aren't going to get the necessary current into the battery even if the battery could accept that current and recharge quickly (which is why battery swapping programs look like the long-term solution for EVs).

A 200 mi battery at 300W/mi (60kWh) would require 1000A DC at 480V (480kW) to recharge the battery in 7.5 minutes. The conductors to carry that much current would be ridiculously big. Even conductors in parallel would be about an inch and a half each, plus suitable insulation.

The other end of the spectrum is home recharging overnight. This requires a 40A circuit to be installed, and the typical home service built in 2009 would be 100A, so you would have that 40A shared between vehicles. For one car its OK - 40A at 240V is 9.6kW, enough to recharge a Volt in one hour (if it could accept the charge that quick). But if you wanted to recharge 60kW, thats 6+ hours per vehicle. After two cars you see where this is going...

I really do like the ER-EVs like the Volt, and I think that they offer the best of both worlds, 40 miles electric plus practically unlimited range. I've run the numbers and I would cut my personal gas consumption by 91% (from about 560 gallons to 50 gallons per year, assuming 40 mi electric and 35MPGe after that). Unfortunately gas has to be at least $3.00/gal at this point to have any sort of ROI in the battery warranty period. At $2/gal its just not workable unless you have an 80 mile commute and can recharge at work.


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By corduroygt on 2/3/2009 12:27:16 PM , Rating: 2
That's why I'm hoping EEstor turns out to be more than vaporware. Capacitors with similar energy density to batteries, fast recharge (assuming you can provide the current for it), and infinite charging cycles. It really could make electric cars reality. I love electric, because I love instant torque...


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By Spuke on 2/3/2009 12:37:32 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I love electric, because I love instant torque...
That today's (and the near future's) tire technology cannot handle. Especially the tires most used on hybrid cars (low rolling resistance, non-performance).


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By corduroygt on 2/3/2009 1:16:27 PM , Rating: 2
That's the fun part, provided you have a RWD car :)
My dream car would have a 50 hp 1.0 liter generator in the front charging a 8-9 kWh capacitor pack under the seats connected to two 100KW direct drive electric motors in the rear. No gearbox, differential, and the generator in the front would provide the heat in the winter.


By Spuke on 2/3/2009 2:15:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's the fun part, provided you have a RWD car :)
With traction and stability control being a standard, the fun will be curtailed. Currently, only sporting vehicles can disable or loosen up these features. These drivetrains are only in non-sporting vehicles for the moment except for Tesla and bring a truck filled with money for that one.


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By Zoomer on 2/3/2009 2:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
What about a smaller engine, say 3 stroke, 600-700cc engine? Less weight to lug around. We could probably size it so it produces 125% the hp needed to cruise at 60mph.

Battery mode: full performance
Engine backup mode: reduced performance, but full power && battery empty is unlikely anyway.


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By Keeir on 2/3/2009 2:54:38 PM , Rating: 2
Something that gets overlooked,

Its the efficieny of the engine at the expected load that is importnant, not the size

Its hard to get 600-700cc engines to produce adequate power at an efficient point (for a 4 door sedan type car). Your example of 125% hourse power needed to cruise at 60mph would leave a car with less (or about) than 75 mph top speed on -flat- ground. In the United States, this is unacceptable as in many places 75 mph is the speed limit. A range extender in the United States needs to be able to provide 100% of the horse power to go 75 mph up a slight incline, say 3-4%. This is where the smaller engines fail. Overall they are probably slightly more efficient, but if no one wants to buy them then it doesn't really help. Hate the prius because of the style, but a prius buyer is giving almost nothing up on a traditional 4 door compact sedan.


RE: Pretty impressed with Ford lately
By corduroygt on 2/3/2009 3:29:20 PM , Rating: 2
The engine size is not that important, since it'd be only a generator, and always run at constant rpm's (or not run at all). I chose a larger engine so that the revs. wear, tear, and noise would be lower. You need it to be just powerful enough to go 90-95 mph constantly with up to 3 minute bursts into higher speeds provided by 200 kW of power.
The


By Alexvrb on 2/3/2009 8:53:31 PM , Rating: 2
The first-gen Volt isn't too far off that mark. Constant speed of ~80 MPH, bursts to ~120 MPH, and an electric motor producing 120 kW of power. If the design does well in the years ahead, maybe they'll release a Volt SS with a beefier EREV drivetrain. :D Lighter batteries would really be killer, though. Here's hoping supercaps pan out.


By Doormat on 2/3/2009 2:16:26 PM , Rating: 2
It has absolutely nothing to do with the battery characteristics. Did you not read my post?

Its about providing current to the battery to recharge it. A standard vehicle needs somewhere between 200-350Wh/mi, depending on speed (since air resistance increases as the square of speed) and acceleration.

The bottom line is this: you'll need (roughly) 2 minutes for each mile you drive at 240V/40A to recharge (recharge at home). To pull down times to times roughly equivalent to putting more gas in your car, you need 480V/1000A (which is ridiculous) to recharge the theoretical battery in less than 10 minutes.


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