It was just a few years ago that Ford, along with the rest of Detroit's auto manufacturers, found themselves sidelined for ignoring fuel efficiency. How times have changed. These days, Ford likes to stress that they offer 12 vehicles which achieve best-in-class fuel economy across various market segments, and sell four vehicles that get in excess of 40 mpg. Yesterday, Jim Farley, Group Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Service at Ford Motor Company announced their future vehicle electrification plans will continue to deliver on their so called "green-pillar" commitment, further enhancing consumer choice of fuel efficient vehicles.
Yesterday's announcement was specifically regarding next years' US launch of the 5-seat Focus-based C-Max. Already available in Europe in a gasoline or diesel version, the US specification C-Max will be adapted as a dedicated electrified vehicle, which by 2013, will triple the production of electrified vehicles made in Ford's Michigan manufacturing plants. American customers will be able to buy either a 3rd generation hybrid, or a more efficient plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) known as the "Energi". Ford notes that fuel economy has become even more important to customers in the last quarter, so the timing couldn't be better. Let's take a deeper dive into this new vehicle.
The company shines the spotlight mainly on the plug-in Energi version of the C-Max which, like the Chevrolet Volt, is designed to run on pure electric power for local journeys, and also like the Volt, utilizes a gasoline engine to extend range. The way Ford and Chevrolet approach the use of the gasoline engine is however different. Whereas Chevrolet uses the gasoline engine primarily as an electricity generator, Ford's gasoline engine appears to operate as in a typical hybrid, by driving the wheels. The C-Max hybrids are distinct from pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Ford's own upcoming Focus electric, which do away with combustion engines altogether.
For technical geeks, the C-max will use Ford's "power-split system" entailing two electric motors - a traction motor for drive and another which will act as a generator - while also employing an Atkinson cycle gasoline engine. The battery will be lithium ion, common to pure EVs, but less common to existing hybrids which typically use nickel metal hydride types. The batteries can be charged over night through a regular 120 volt outlet, but Ford is partnering with Best Buy to install 240 volt residential modular charging stations that will provide full replenishment in just 3 hours. The notable innovation here is that the modular charging station will be portable, so owners can take it with them if they move to a new home. Technical partnership also extends to Microsoft who will provide software to enable smart charging to coincide with times when electricity rates are lowest.
Vehicle Performance & Price
Probably wisely at this point, Ford is not disclosing the potential range or top speed in pure electric mode, promising only a combined driving range of 500 miles per tank. Furthermore, the company is not offering a combined mpg figure, stating only that it will better the 41 mpg of their own Fusion hybrid. One has to expect the plug-in Energi version will beat this by a considerable margin though, given the electric only mode available for shorter journeys. Ford is keeping tight-lipped on prices too, deferring such detail until closer to the yet-to-be-determined launch date. Arguably, such hedging diminishes the impact of the announcement since consumers cannot be clear on exactly what to expect, but Chevrolet set expectations they later had to modify with the Volt, so maybe Ford wants to avoid any potential for having to back-track as production nears.
What the company has stated is the C-Max will add 170 new green manufacturing jobs and an additional 50 engineering positions in electrified-vehicle technology. The batteries will also be designed and built in-house and consumers will benefit from a 10 year warranty, meaning any battery degradation will be less of a concern. Notably, the C-Max meshes with the company's "one Ford" strategy of global vehicle platform development. This signifies that the company sees the C-Max plug-in less as a niche halo car, but rather as an integral part of a profitable vehicle portfolio.
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.