Perhaps you’ve heard allegations that Ford’s Focus Electric is a “compliance car,” a limited-production gas-free vehicle that adds to its maker’s average overall fleet fuel-economy rating.

While there may be truth to that, at the same time no self-respecting automaker would seek to deliberately sabotage its chances of selling more, and a recent talk given by a senior Ford executive revealed some of Ford’s thinking in deciding to offer an economical vehicle in volume.

The good news for green car fans is Ford is designing all of its mainstream vehicles so a hybrid powertrain can be offered, and is seeking to add more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and other varieties of fuel-efficient powertrains into the mix.

According to Joe Bakaj, Ford Motor Co.’s vice president of powertrain engineering, consumer research and some other metrics it weighs have led it to a formula for determining which models will be a candidate for volume sales.

High up on the priority list in assessing viability is the percentage of prospective shoppers that will pay extra on the sticker to net fuel savings during vehicle ownership.

Bakaj said 25 percent of consumers will pay extra if the extra can be recouped within four years. If the car can do it, consider that a positive check mark in favor of it making it to volume sales.

Beyond that, comes two more factors: the critical elements of vehicle range and ease of refueling. Ahem, did we just read a tacit admission that the Focus EV could be little more now than a de facto compliance car? With under 80-mile range and limited public charging, this does not sound like it would meet these two additional points Ford considers necessary for volume.

Indeed, it would appear even hybrids like the pending C-Max Energi plug-in will be limited for now by Ford’s reckoning. Bakaj gave this info at a Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich. last week, and said cars that do look like winners are those with the EcoBoost family of engines.

These small-displacement, direct-injected turbocharged engines add around $800-$1,200 extra per vehicle, and do recoup their extra outlay in four years. In fact Bakaj said consumers are gravitating to them with wallet in hand. As an example, 43 percent of F-series pickup buyers pass on a more fuel thirsty traditional V8, and choose to pay up for a 3.5-liter 6-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

For those of you waiting for a revolution from its plug-in offerings, Bakaj did not indicate this would be immediate. The C-Max Energi including destination charge and factoring a $3,750 tax credit will sell for $29,995 – just below the just-over $30,000 national average new car price. In Ford’s estimate however, Bakaj said this car will not meet the four-year payback test, but he said Ford is OK with that as it will not be spending extra money to produce it.

The C-Max Energi will be put together on the same assembly line as conventional versions, so if it surprises them and sells better than expected, volume can be increased.

In general, Bakaj said, Ford is setting itself up to be able to introduce more fuel-efficient powertrains as market demand dictates.

Automotive News