By John Addison (updated 11/3/11; original 5/20/10)

May 2010, I enjoyed driving the new Ford Focus Electric. I had just finished my presentation to the Western Automotive Journalists and wanted to get behind the wheel of this new electric car. The 4-door sedan felt just like driving a regular gasoline Focus 4-door sedan, except it was more quiet and accelerated faster due to the torque of the electric motor. Although it was just a prototype, and Ford assured me that it would get better as the software controls are tuned, it felt more ready to go than my previous prototype test drive last October.

The handling was smooth while driving the Focus Electric. Unlike some electric car prototypes, when I hit the brakes, it stopped evenly and quickly. The coordination between regeneration and disc braking was effective. It’s not surprising that Ford is this far along. For several years, fleets have been driving the Ford Focus with an electric drive system and a hydrogen fuel cell to extend the electric range. The Ford Focus Electric will compete with the Nissan LEAF and others makers of electric cars and plug-in hybrids – Top 10 Electric Car Makers. Nissan will deliver 50,000 Nissan LEAFs before Ford starts delivering its electric Focus.

The 2012 Ford Focus Electric can now be ordered starting at $39,200. Since Ford is only planning on limited production in 2012, they can afford to price this electric car at $4,000 than the popular 2012 Nissan Leaf. The Focus Electric is fully $10,000 more than the smaller city electric Mitsubishi i.

Both the Focus Electric and Nissan LEAF are beautiful 5-door hatchbacks with passenger room and cargo flexibility that stretches their compact classification. Both have effective displays to select favorite music, navigate with dynamic maps to your preferred destination or nearest public charger. The LEAF display includes a back-up camera.

The Ford Focus Electric can be Level 2 charged at twice the speed of the 2012 Nissan LEAF. Although this will rarely matter when charging at home, it makes a big difference when using public charging. To get home, the Focus Electric might only require an hour of waiting at Starbucks; the 2012 LEAF could take 2 hours. The 2013 Nissan LEAF will charge at the same 6.6kw/h as the 2012 Ford Focus Electric. The LEAF, at no added cost, does included a second DC Fast Charge port for an 80 percent charge in about 26 minutes; although few such fast charge stations are currently available in the United States. Both can also be trickle charged from a normal dedicated 110 volt garage outlet.

Both cars qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit and strong incentives in many states. Nissan has a head start with individuals, but Ford is likely to take the lead with its long time fleet buyers. Fleets own over 14 million vehicles in the U.S.

The electric car is ideal for many who live in a city where range is rarely an issue, and where transit, car sharing, and car rental are also available. The average U.S. suburban household has two vehicles, so the electric car could be ideal as one of those two. For many people, this will not be the best vehicle because the range limitation will not meet their work or personal demands. These people should consider a plug-in hybrid or car with great mileage.

Electric Drive System

The Ford Focus Electric that I drove had a Magna drive system and a 23 kWh Ford designed battery pack using LG Chem Compact Power lithium-ion tri-metal cells with over 17 kWh available in the charge-discharge cycle. Ford is likely to match Nissan’s 100 mile range per electric charge. The battery currently weighs 500 pounds. Ford has a roadmap that envisions the battery eventually being reduced to a size of the current Focus gas tank and a weight of only 125 pounds using new battery chemistry.

Although some express concern about the long-term availability of lithium, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, said that Ford’s analysis is that there will be no shortage through 2050. Battery makers expect to recycle 98 percent of the lithium in batteries.

Made in the USA

The Focus Electric will be made in America – Warren, Michigan. Ford is investing $550 million to transform its Michigan Assembly Plant into a lean, green and flexible manufacturing complex that will build Ford’s next-generation Focus global small car along with a new battery-electric version of the Focus for the North American market. The Focus EV is part of the new Focus family available in the United States late 2010.

“The new Ford Focus is a clear demonstration that our ONE Ford strategy is providing global consumers with great products that harness the best of Ford Motor Company,” said Alan Mulally, Ford’s president and CEO. “The efficiencies generated by our new global C-car platform will enable us to provide Ford Focus customers with an affordable product offering quality, fuel efficiency, safety and technology beyond their expectations.” Ford is planning on a Global C platform for 12 to 14 different vehicles with a volume of 2 million units per year. Such volume, common chassis and many common components, can give Ford improved profit margins and room to price hybrid and electric cars competitively.

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