Is Ford Treading Cautiously with its Focus Electric?
While GM’s Chevrolet Volt was extensively promoted for several years prior to its December 2010 launch, Ford Motor Company appears to be taking a low-key approach with its Focus Electric.
Since its introduction last year, Ford has sold less than 30 examples and although it says it plans to ramp up production at its Wayne, Michigan facility as it rolls the car out into U.S. launch markets in California, New Jersey and New York, some are wondering whether there’s a bit of a reluctance on Ford’s part to commit to the vehicle.
Last week, Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally revealed that the true cost of the lithium-ion battery pack for the car is somewhere between $12,000-$15,000; and with the Focus Electric boasting a MSRP of $39,200 (a comparable gasoline Focus starts at $18,300) and a range of 76 miles, there’s no question that demand will be limited.
That being said, Ford doesn’t appear to be helping the car’s cause any further, despite the fact that a survey by the company itself revealed that 61 percent of Americans are interested in buying an EV or hybrid vehicle (even though many aren’t likely to make the jump until gasoline hits $5 per gallon).
Further reticence revealed itself when Jim Farley, Ford’s vice president of global marketing recently said, “the marketing of the Focus Electric is to people who buy electric vehicles, not you and me.”
Some have interpreted this to mean that the Focus electric is very much a “fringe” product in Ford’s eyes and with marketing clearly aimed at those who already “get” EVs. Farley’s statement appears very much an indicator that Ford is preaching to the converted EV enthusiast rather than aiming to win over new buyers – and a case of just throwing your hat into the ring simply to have a place in the running.
Green vehicle advocates also cite Ford’s decision not to produce a third-generation Escape Hybrid as another aspect at the reluctance to really embrace electric vehicle technology, even though the company is pitching its new mid-size Fusion Hybrid and Energi plug-in sedans as the most fuel efficient on the market.
It seems that instead, Ford is concentrating its engineering efforts on EcoBoost, with a plan to offer these powertrains in 90 percent of its global product portfolio by next year. By downsizing displacement and adding turbocharging and direct injection, Ford has been able to significantly increase fuel economy on its conventional passenger cars and light trucks without sacrificing performance and at a lower cost than utilizing hybrid and EV technology.
And with Ford aggressively pushing its new 1.0-liter EcoBoost Focus in Europe, which the company says achieves 47 miles per gallon (56.5 mpg Imperial) in 125 PS (metric horsepower) form; plus the company’s increasingly global product strategy, there’s a good indication cars like the Focus Electric could ultimately be left out in the cold.
Not helping matters is the fact that Ford still hasn’t announced any European sales of the Focus EV and by stating it can switch production at the Wayne, Michigan facility from conventional Focus models to EVs depending on demand, offers yet another indicator that internal enthusiasm for the vehicle is lukewarm at best.
And while some industry analysts, including consulting firm LMC Automotive, see EVs and plug-in hybrids account for just 1 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales by 2017, do you think Ford’s conservative approach with the Focus Electric is the right step, at least in the short-term?