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Blue Oval goes green

Blue spark: Ford has debuted its first production EV drive system in the new Focus, which should also get hybrid power.

New Focus and Escape hybrids likely to be Ford’s next two electrified models

1 Feb 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY in LOS ANGELES

HYBRID versions of the all-new Focus and next-generation Escape might be the next models to emerge from Ford’s ambitious vehicle electrification strategy.

Ford committed to introducing five part or full electric vehicles by 2013 at the Detroit motor show in January, where the first three made their debut in the shape of the Focus Electric, C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid.

The Blue Oval has not revealed which model will be next to receive its modular hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full-electric powertrain technologies, each of which – in theory – could be applied to all 10 of the models Ford will eventually produce from the all-new global C-segment platform that underpins the new Focus.

They include five-door hatchback, four-door sedan and long-wheelbase wagon versions of the MkIII Focus that goes on sale here in the third quarter, a replacement for the current Escape and Kuga compact SUVs, five and seven-seat versions of the C-Max people-mover and the successor for Ford’s Transit Connect small van, although Ford says a three-door coupe version of the Focus – dubbed Capri and rumoured to be a direct rival for Opel’s Astra Coupe – is not in its compact car plans.

While the production version of the Focus Electric – Ford’s first full-electric passenger vehicle – made its global debut as at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few days earlier, the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid premiered at Detroit alongside the Vertrek concept, which previews the next-generation Escape that goes on sale in the US late this year and in Australia late next year.

The new Focus is already in production at Saarlouis (Germany) and Ford’s Wayne plant in Michigan, and will come on stream by 2012 from Russia, China and Thailand, which is likely to eventually become the source for Australia’s Focus and Escape.

While the current Escape is made in Kansas City for the US and in Taiwan for Australia (and the Kuga is made for Europe in Saarlouis), the replacement for all three models – based heavily on the Vertrek concept – will enter production at Ford’s F-Series truck plant in Louisville, Kentucky, later this year.

Production of the Focus Electric and both versions of the petrol-electric C-Max, including Ford’s first-ever ‘range-extending’ plug-in hybrid (PHEV), will start late this year in Michigan before all three models are launched in North America in 2012 and in Europe in 2013.

Ford has promised to release at least one other unnamed hybrid model in the near-term and, although Ford will not confirm it, we expect that vehicle to be based on the new Focus, with a hybrid version of the next Escape/Kuga likely to follow.

Ford’s global public relations chief Mark Shermer told GoAuto the company was only willing to talk about announced products.

“We haven’t announced any further electrified vehicles yet, but stand by,” he said.

Ford is also yet to commit to an electrified vehicle rollout in the Asia-Pacific region – including Australia – but Ford Australia public affairs director Sinead McAlary says it is only a matter of time.

“It's definitely on the agenda, but there's no time frame as yet,” she said.

Ford already markets hybrid version of the current Escape, Lincoln MKZ and Fusion sedan in the US, where a fully electric Transit van is now also in (limited) production, making Ford North America’s top domestic producer of electrified vehicles with 140,000 hybrids on the road.

27 center imageLeft, from top: Focus Electric interior C-Max Vertrek and Focus Electric platform.As we’ve reported, the Focus Electric is said to return a “mile-per-gallon equivalent better than Chevrolet Volt”. Ford also says a full recharge of the Focus Electric will take three to four hours at home with the 240-volt charge station – about half the time as the Nissan Leaf.

It is believed the Focus EV will offer a 160km driving range and a top speed of 135km/h.

Meantime, Ford says its plug-in C-Max Energi – which like the C-Max hybrid employs the company’s “powersplit” petrol-electric drive system comprising a Prius-style Atkinson-cycle engine, electric motor/generator and the latest lithium-ion battery technology – will deliver a total driving range of 800km and better charge-sustaining fuel economy than the Chevrolet Volt, which goes on sale in Australia in 2012.

Finally, the C-Max Hybrid is claimed to deliver better fuel economy than America’s most fuel-efficient sedan, the Fusion Hybrid, by operating in EV mode beyond 75km/h and featuring a smaller lower-voltage Li-Ion battery than the C-Max Energi to give it extended emissions-free operation.

In the US, the new plug-in vehicles will be come with a unique EV version of the MyFord Touch infotainment system featuring a new “value charging” function powered by Microsoft and the MyFord Mobile smartphone application, which helps plug-in owners control their vehicles remotely.

Free to buyers for the first five years, the system will allow owners to monitor the car’s state of charge and current range, get alerts when it requires charging, remotely program charge settings, program the vehicle to use electricity from the grid to heat or cool the battery and cabin while plugged in, locate the vehicle with GPS and remotely unlock and start the vehicle.

Ford says its vehicle electrification program, detailed to journalists from around the world including Australia last week at its Dearborn HQ before the global Focus media launch in Los Angeles, is based on a customer choice-driven strategy that aims to deliver top fuel efficiency in every model, while offering ease of use and an engaging ownership experience.

“This isn’t a project car – this isn’t a demo vehicle,” said Ford’s electrified vehicle planning manager, Chris Pick, of the Focus Electric.

“We’ve developed the Focus Electric to deliver the same attributes as the conventional engined car.”

Mr Pick said that while Ford was already second only to Toyota in terms of full-hybrid vehicle production, electrified vehicles would comprise up to 25 per cent of the car-maker’s sales by 2020 – up from less than one per cent last year.

Of that, hybrids are forecast to provide the lion’s share of 70 per cent, with plug-in hybrids accounting for up to 25 per cent, and battery-only electric vehicles just five per cent.

Naturally, hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and full-electric (EV) technologies will come at a price premium over the conventionally powered vehicles in which they are offered, said Mr Pick.

“We will offer a number, of actions and levels of electrification across a range of vehicles,” he said.

“We don't want to force this on customers. We want to provide more options for those ready to move from conventionally-powered cars. Just as one size of vehicle doesn’t fit all buyers, we’re going to provide them with options.

“We are in the early stages of electrification, so this will be somewhat premium priced.”

Ford said its ‘Power of Choice’ electrification plan would culminate in the introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles, which Mercedes-Benz recently stated would become as inexpensive as diesel-hybrids by 2015, although it revealed no timeframe for their appearance in Ford showrooms.

In the meantime, Ford says it will continue to reduce fuel consumption of its models by introducing downsized turbocharged EcoBoost engines, plus idle-stop and electric power steering systems.

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