Undoubtedly sobered by the plight of the Chevy Volt, which recently idled production for five weeks, furloughing 1300 workers in an effort to draw down excess inventory, the Ford Focus EV team has taken a number of innovative steps to avoid similar problems.
For starters, unlike other EV manufacturers, Ford will be building the Focus EV on the same production line as the gas-powered, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. This provides much more flexibility to adjust to the rising and falling demands for each of the variously powered models.
That flexibility will be further leveraged by a build-to-order system that has prompted one writer, James Murray, at Business Green, to dub Ford, “the Dell Computer of Electric Vehicles.” The build-to-order process will share some similarities with Dell’s production process, which allows customers to select the options of their choice and receive their car in 4-6 weeks. The strategy will help “de-risk” the rollout. According to Mike Tinskey, Ford’s Vehicle Electrification chief, “There are simply too many variables impacting the market that we have no control over, so this gives us real flexibility. If the price of crude rises and demand for EVs climbs we can produce more EVs and fewer gas vehicles.”
Of course, it also helps that the Focus EV has the highest effective mileage rating of any car in America at 110 mpg city, and 99 mpg highway. This beats the Volt’s 93/95, as does the price, which is still a rather steep $39,995, but that beats the Volt by $1000. Both prices are before incentives including a $7500 Federal tax credit are applied. The Focus will have a range of 100 miles and a top speed of 84 mph.
Edmunds Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs claims that, given the price difference, it would take the Volt nine years to break even with their closest gasoline powered vehicle, the Cruze, which retails for $19,656, even with gas at $5 per gallon. That analysis however, does not seem to take into account the lower cost of electricity compared to gasoline. According to my estimates, that would be just under six years for the Volt, and just over four years for the Focus. I should point out that part of the reasons that Ford’s breakeven is the higher price of the gas-powered Focus to which I compared it, which sells for $22,700.
Comparing the Focus EV to the Cruze yields a payback of 5.5 years, still a bit better than the Volt. Of course, that also assumes that gas prices will stay the same for the next 5-6 years. If they happen to go up over five bucks a gallon, the payback will be quicker and the owners happier, while everyone still driving gas cars will not be happy at all.
The Focus EV will also offer a faster charge-up time than either the Volt or the Nissan Leaf. A full charge will take roughly three hours.
Ford has also entered into some innovative partnerships to improve their EV offering. For starters, they have reached an agreement with solar manufacturer SunPower to provide a solar array along with the car, large enough to provide enough electricity for 15,000 miles per year. The array will cost $10,000 and is guaranteed for 25 years. Okay so that’s $50k to shell out all at once, but if you had it, then you’d never pay a cent for “gas” the entire time you owned that setup.
There is also a partnership with Microsoft, to provide a mobile app called Hohm Energy Management, designed to monitor and optimize battery charge and driver performance.
The two companies also jointly developed an application called “Value Charging” which helps owners select the optimal time to charge their vehicles, taking advantage of the fact that many utilities reduce their rates overnight when demand is low. With this application, Tinskey claims that a driver in San Francisco could charge his car overnight and receive enough energy to travel 100 miles for roughly one dollar.
We should all hope that EV sales pick up, as that will benefit everyone when they do. With gas prices heading north, no sign of relief in sight, and manufacturers taking innovative steps like these, there is good reason for optimism. Ironically, if enough people purchase electric vehicles, that will probably cause gasoline prices to come down.
[Image credit:s.yume:Flickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Now available on Kindle.
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