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Ford Plugs In With an Electric Fleet

Ford's battery prototype, based on the Focus.Ford, the least financially challenged of the Big Three, is making a big push on hybrid and plug-in vehicles. The company brought a development version of its small Focus-based battery electric car to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and gave journalists (including me) a chance to drive it on city streets. Though it looked like a bare bones Focus economy car, performance was lively (though somewhat noisy for an EV).

Michael Tinskey, Ford's manager of hybrid applications, says the battery car, scheduled for the 2012 model year, is but one "pillar" of a North American strategy that also includes a battery-powered commercial van due next year and, complementing the new hybrid Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, an all-new hybrid for the U.S. market.

An extended-range plug-in hybrid will be on the market by 2012. Ford placed a fleet of 120-mpg Escape-based plug-in hybrids with Southern California Edison and the Electric Power Research Institute beginning in 2007.

The battery car, with styling unique to it, has been under development with the Canadian company Magna International since early 2008. It has a target 100-mile range, 12-hour charging at 110 volts and a single-speed transmission. Tinskey thinks the company can sell as many as 10,000 a year through its traditional dealer network. The price, so far unannounced, "will be competitive with other product offerings."

One of those other products is the City, a two-seat plastic-bodied car made by the Norwegian company Think Global (which, in an earlier incarnation, was actually owned by Ford). After suspending production last December and declaring the Norwegian version of bankruptcy, Think said January 13 that it had identified $5.6 million in short-term financing. The City, which had gone on sale in Scandinavia, has a 110-mile range. A 2009 U.S. launch has been planned.

"We're aware of the Think City, and in some ways it does represent a competitor," Tinksey said. "But as a sedan that can carry four to five people with all the comforts that people expect, our car is less compromised. The smaller City is in something of a different market."

Tinskey said that people who commute 40 to 50 miles a day are "the perfect customers" for the forthcoming battery car. Initial marketing will be in temperate climates "where people don't need to use the heat or air conditioning so much." That's one way to extend battery range.

Photo by Jim Motavalli

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