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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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Gasoline FUD
By pachai on 2/3/2009 12:48:19 PM , Rating: 3
...I would never buy a pure electric vehicle.
...At least not with ranges only being 100 miles...
..Until it can go 300-400 miles/charge at 80 mph,
...recharge in < 10 minutes to a full charge,

There are alot of people who think like that.
But what if you had a car that could go 120 miles
at 70 (nearly 2 hours of driving, which is
considered a safe amount for non-commercial),
and then charge in 1/2 hour at the charging
station provided for that purpose.
(This is using 50a @ 240V instead of 17a @ 110V)

My family has 2 cars, I drive 80 miles a day,
and the above would work for us. For longer
trips, we would do what others do, and rent.
(I know people who have ICE cars who do this,
rent a bigger car for longer trips)

To quote Chelsea Sexton, "we're sorry this model
can only work for 90% of the people"

And this talk about dirty electricity...
phrase it this way, a gas engine is 15%
efficient, and there is basically
1 source of gasoline: oil.
An Electric car is 85% efficient,
(Did you wonder what happend to
that 85% above? :-)

and there are thousands of ways of making
electricity, and many of them are very
clean. Some people might not have heard
of Niagra Falls, or the Hoover Dam?
New Jersey is putting up windmills along
the Turnpike. Lots of folks in US are
putting up solar panels. Distributing
power generation around the grid
makes it stronger.

The claims that EV's cause more pollution
come from one source exactly: Oil Companies.

At the rate things are going, I expect
to have my Prius plugging in AND an
electric Camry converted before those
guys are in the showrooms.

RE: Gasoline FUD
By corduroygt on 2/3/2009 2:15:19 PM , Rating: 2
So you'd spend half an hour waiting at a charging station, every 120 miles. Must be easy when you're a government handout receiving unemployed hippie with all the time in the world.

I rev up my engine a little extra when I pass people like you in a prius when you're doing 55 mph on the left most lane.

RE: Gasoline FUD
By xmichaelx on 2/3/2009 3:33:33 PM , Rating: 3
I spend 20-30 minutes every 120 miles at gas stations/rest stops, because I -- like millions of others -- ride a motorcycle as my sole source of transportation.

55 miles per gallon, and I can pretty much guarantee you that you've never passed me.

RE: Gasoline FUD
By FITCamaro on 2/3/2009 4:08:04 PM , Rating: 2
What's your point exactly?

A motorcycle isn't exactly a practical sole source of transportation for a vast majority of people.

And it takes you 20 minutes to fill your what 2 gallon tank?

RE: Gasoline FUD
By Spuke on 2/3/2009 4:20:34 PM , Rating: 2
Meanwhile, I'm driving by on the freeway not needing to stop every 120 miles for 20-30 minutes a pop and unless you're grossly exceeding the speed limit, you won't be passing me.

RE: Gasoline FUD
By FITCamaro on 2/3/2009 4:15:37 PM , Rating: 2
Uh no. From here to my parents house its a 370 mile drive. It normally takes me about 6.5 hours due to slow downs on the highway and food/gas stops. If I added onto that 3 stops for electricity, we're talking a 9 hour trip. Now imagine you're going 1000 miles. You're talking an extra 5 hours on probably a 16 hour drive. So you're increasing drive times by a 1/3.

Now yes there is the option of renting a larger vehicle for long trips. But considering the cost of about $30 a day, that adds significant cost for a week long trip. Also imagine if everyone who needed to drive farther than 120 miles had to do that. Costs for renting said cars would go up because there would be greater demand and only a finite supply.

Cars like the Volt are the good middle ground. For the standard commute you don't use gas. But for longer trips, you can drive the distance without stopping that often.

Sorry I don't want to go from 360 miles a tank with a 5 minute fill up to 120 miles a "tank" with 30 minute "fillups".

RE: Gasoline FUD
By nuarbnellaffej on 2/4/2009 3:28:31 PM , Rating: 2
Do you actually believe EV's to be 85% efficient? Its not a fair comparison to cars with internal combustion engines, as the electricity that powers the EV's isn't generated within the car, but is actually generated at power plants, then sent via power lines to your charging station, loosing even more of its potency.

I do not refute the fact that EV's are more efficient, but its DEFINITELY not a 70% difference.

Further more, on your points about "Niagra Falls, and the Hoover Dam", the days of Hydro in the US are over, at least in the seance of expanding them, no new dam's will be built in the US for the foreseeable future, thanks to environmentalists who have put a stop to the destruction of nature by the reservoirs created by dams.

I'm not even going to get into wind or solar power...

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