The Ford Focus Electric has been a long time coming since it was first announced back at CES 2011. However the wait will soon be over because the tailpipe-emissions-free version of Ford's five-seater Focus is already here, and I've touched it.
Specifically, I've driven it, but Ford has asked me not to talk about the driver's-seat experience until next Tuesday (April 17), so stay tuned and check back to hear more on that.
Zero tailpipe emissions
Until then, let's talk about what we do know about Ford's shot across the bow of the Nissan Leaf. For starters, the Focus electric is powered by a 23kWh-capacity lithium ion battery. The battery's temperature is managed by a liquid cooling system that keeps the pack within a specific thermal range for optimal performance. Like many manufacturers of hybrids and EVs, Ford claims that the move to lithium ion technology allows the Focus Electric to use a battery pack that is 25 to 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter than a nickel metal hydride battery of similar capacity. Thanks to quick-charging technology that I'll get back to in a bit, Ford also claims that the EV can be fully charged in about 4 hours on 240-volt power.
Ford's first electric car zips onto the scene
Pushing the Start button and the accelerator in sequence begins the flow of electricity from the battery pack to the 105kW (141 horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels via a single-speed gearbox. Depending on how closely your driving style matches the EPA's and the topography of your hometown, the Focus Electric should get somewhere near 110 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) when driven in the city and 99 MPGe on the highway (for a combined 105 MPGe estimate). You and I both know that MPGe is just a made-up metric used to compare electric vehicles with their gasoline-powered brethren. The metric that you're likely looking for is range, which the EPA estimates at up to 76 miles on a single charge. That's three miles farther than the Nissan Leaf, a small victory for sure, but in the immortal words of Dominic Toretto, "Winning's winning."
Helping drivers to get as close to that range claim as possible are in-car and in-pocket interfaces that help drivers to monitor their vehicle, their driving habits, and their energy management. The first bit is an updated version of the MyFord Touch instrument cluster that we praised highly on the previous-generation Ford Fusion Hybrid. This setup places a pair of LCDs on either side of a physical speedometer to give you access to an eco-coach tool that gives feedback on acceleration and braking behavior and a sort of green-driving scoreboard that populates with butterflies as you continue to drive efficiently. (I guess Ford switched from the old leaf motif for the obvious reason.) Each of these displays can be customized to show as much or as little information as you want to see. I'll be talking more about this system next week when I dig into the driving experience.
MyFord Mobile app
When outside of the car, you can continue to monitor and interact with the Focus Electric via the MyFord Mobile app. This smartphone app (available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry devices at launch) allows you to view the vehicle's current battery-charging state, percentage of capacity, and estimated range based on your own personal driving style. You can schedule charging for later, instruct the system to immediately charge, and receive notifications if the car isn't charging when it's supposed to be or is unplugged unexpectedly. Integration with a system called Microsoft Value Charging supplies the MyFord Mobile app with power rates for the owner's ZIP code and allows the app to schedule the Focus Electric to charge when the rates are at their lowest. Using this system, Ford claims that the Focus Electric only costs about $2 to $3 per full charge, or about 4 cents per mile.
The Focus Electric can also be located on a MapQuest app that also displays the location of nearby charging stations. A trip-planning function allows you to input multiple destinations and know, based on the driver's style, if the trip can be completed at the current battery level. These destinations and the locations of charging stations found on the map can be pushed to the Focus Electric for turn-by-turn navigation wirelessly via Microsoft Sync and an in-car wireless modem (powered by AT&T). The Ford includes five years of data connectivity in the price of the Focus Electric, but don't go thinking that you'll be streaming Pandora on Ford's dime -- the connection is a low-speed, non-3G connection that only handles telematics.
Additionally, the MyFord Mobile app allows you to remotely lock and unlock doors, start the climate control system to preheat or cool the cabin using power from the grid, and track driver-specific achievements for goals such as reaching a specific range on a charge, driving so many "oil-free" miles, or regenerating a specific amount of energy with the brakes. Those achievements can then be shared via integration with Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. Non-smartphone users can access all of these features through a Web portal. I'm told that the MyFord Mobile app and Web site will continue to be expanded upon with new features and will eventually be tweaked to work with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the upcoming Ford Fusion Energi and Ford C-Max Energi.
Ford claims that the Focus Electric is a green car even before it finishes rolling off of the assembly line thanks to an interior made completely of environmentally responsible materials and fabric manufactured using 100 percent recycled bottles and plastics. Even the vehicle charging station uses 60 percent recycled materials.
Speaking of the charging station, owners of the Focus Electric who want to have a 240-volt smart charger installed in their garage can simply plunk down $1,499 to order one through their local Best Buy retailer. In-home installation will be handled by the Geek Squad and the whole thing is modular enough that it can be easily moved to a new home in the event that the owner moves.
Production of the Focus Electric began in December 2011 and the vehicle is already being used in a few fleets around the U.S. Expect to see the Focus models showing up at your local dealer sans tailpipe sometime in the first half of 2012 if you live in the California, New York, or New Jersey markets. By the end of 2012, the Focus Electric will be available in 19 markets across the U.S. starting at $39,200 before destination charges or tax rebates.