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Green mobility

The Ford Focus goes electric

In August, Ford will launch its first ever full production electric model: the Focus Electric, with a range of 160 kilometres. The model offers the comfort of a standard compact car, but at EUR 40,000 the price tag is considerably higher.

So this is the latest addition to the Ford catalogue. The Focus Electric looks just like its conventionally powered cousins. Only a socket cover on the front wing and some discreet lettering on the door give it away. You only get the feeling that you are about to speed off into the future once you experience the silent start-up. Ford will launch the Focus Electric on the European market in the late summer – behind many Japanese electric cars, but earlier than the majority of German models.

One could be forgiven for expecting a little more from a manufacturer which has been experimenting with electromobility for 20 years and is already the second-largest provider of hybrid cars in the US. However, this restraint is part and parcel of the car’s concept, and also applies to the vehicle itself: instead of designing the Focus Electric as an electric car from the bottom up, with lightweight materials, optimal use of space and weight management to match, Ford simply bolted an electric drive train to the standard Focus body for the US market launch in 2012.

Technologically speaking, this modular approach sacrifices options, but in economic terms the strategy could be a smart one: both alternatives can now be manufactured side-by-side in Saarlouis, Germany, for the European market. This is crucial to Ford’s profitability in Europe, where the manufacturer posted a drastic loss of EUR 1.3 billion in 2012 – all the more so in an area of technology with an unpredictable future.

Lithium-ion-heart

At the heart of it all, a 23 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery powers the 107-kilowatt (kW) or 145-hp electric motor. The battery provides a range of 162 kilometres (km) and an electronically limited top speed of 136 km per hour (km/h). Like almost all electric cars, the Focus is a lively mover: the powerful acceleration ensured by its 250 newton metres (Nm) of torque, available from the first revolution, enable the car to spring to life with a speed which is belied by its gentle purr.

However, energy-conscious drivers will soon learn to accelerate and brake efficiently, despite the Focus’s lack of an eco-driving programme. They are helped along the way in particular by the second of the two selectable levels for recovery of braking energy: when the lever is in the “L” position, up to 90 percent of the heat energy released by the brakes can be recycled back into the battery as electricity, such as when driving downhill or slowing down for a traffic light.

A certain amount of care is needed here, as the deceleration effect increases noticeably ­(by what feels like a factor of one third) as soon as the driver’s foot is lifted from the electricity pedal. The brake coach on the instrument panel screen displays the number of kilometres recovered by regenerative breaking, the amount of energy consumed and the number of litres of fossil fuel spared as a result of using an electric drive car. To top it off, Ford’s engineers have indulged in a little eco-gimmick: ecologically-aware driving is not just rewarded with increased range; efficient drivers are also treated to a swarm of digital butterflies on their display panel.

Heavy weight

Longer trips with the Focus Electric highlight the benefits of the car’s modular approach: a vehicle boasting electric traction control, electric power steering, comfortable seats, solid workmanship, six airbags and a voice-controlled communication and entertainment system. However, with its 300-kilogram (kg) battery, the Focus Electric weighs in at 235 kg more than the largest Focus Diesel.

Another downside becomes apparent in winter: despite a liquid heating/cooling system to regulate battery temperature, cold weather can restrict the car’s range by as much as 45 percent – an issue for which no electric car has yet found a satisfactory solution.

Of course, first of all the battery has to be charged. A transformer converts the electricity from alternating to direct current. Connected to a standard household power socket, a complete charge cycle takes eight to nine hours.

Full charged within three hours

Ford expects Focus Electric owners to connect their car to the grid for charging two or more times a day. At home, a 32-ampere wall box brings down charge times to five or six hours, while a value charging function lets drivers programme charge times so that the car draws power outside of peak demand periods. Even quicker are high-capacity public charging stations, where the Focus’s battery can be fully charged in three to four hours.

“The new Ford Focus Electric is the culmination of years of research and development,” sums up Raj Nair, Ford’s vice president of global product development. Ford plans to apply the results to four more electric vehicles in Europe in 2013. Already on the market is the entirely battery-run Transit Connect Electric, which will be joined by the family cars C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi (plug-in hybrid) and the Mondeo Hybrid saloon car.

Guaranteed carbon-free electricity

It is now becoming customary for electric car manufacturers to offer green electricity to power their fleet. Ford is working on this with green energy provider Naturstrom and supplier RheinEnergie. In collaboration with the latter, Ford’s plant in Cologne has installed a solar power plant on the factory roof specifically to provide electricity for 450 Focus cars.

“We have been working on more efficient processes and products for a long time,” says Bernhard Mattes, head of Ford’s German operations. “It is only logical that we want to offer our customers sustainability across the board, with a supply of guaranteed carbon-free electricity, as well as electric vehicles.”

The solution is as meticulously thought out as the car itself: re-using the body of the technically excellent and highly successful Focus is a sensible move in terms of economics and pricing; a riskier alternative at a time when the future of electromobility is anyone’s guess could prove too dangerous for an ailing car manufacturer like Ford.

High price: 40,000 Euro

From the end of the year, the Focus will have to contend with the fully electric BMW i3­, a ground-breaking, futuristic concept which completely redefines the electric car market, and features ultra-lightweight new materials and an innovative design. Until then, the Focus remains the only choice for an electric compact car manufactured in Germany.

Its high price tag of EUR 40,000 is in line with the market. Its battery technology – a field in which little progress has been made in recent years in terms of price, capacity or weight – is typical of the state of the art. As a result, for the time being its target group will consist of car fleets and wealthy idealists who don’t mind being inconspicuous – as long as they are prepared to fork out so much for a car which, though impeccably made, won’t make the cut with anyone worried about limited range.

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