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Straight Talk from Nancy Gioia, Ford's Electric Guru

The new director of global electrification for Ford, Nancy Gioia, sat down for a 15-minute interview with BNET Autos. Gioia says she's "thrilled" to stay connected with the team she served as Ford's director of sustainable mobility technology and hybrid vehicle programs for North America, "but now it's on a broader scale." The promotion was first reported earlier today.

Gioia will have hard work ahead to convince people around the world not only to buy plug-in vehicles, but to choose Fords. The company's roll-out is unaffected by Gioia's promotion. A battery version of the Transit Connect commercial van Ford debuted this past summer will be on the market next year, built in partnership with Smith Electric Vehicles. Gioia predicts that first model year sales will total no more than 1,000, but she says she's happy to make more. "If customer demand is there, we'll be happy to support our customers," she said.

In 2011, Ford will roll out the battery-powered Focus it has been developing with Canadian supplier Magna International. Gioia is a little more bullish on that one, predicting 5,000 to 10,000 sales globally the first model year. The Focus, Transit and C-Max are all on Ford's new global C platform.

The Focus exists in a variety of test versions, including two on the Burbank, California set of the Jay Leno Show (where I got a chance to take the wheel about two weeks ago). As part of the "Green Car Challenge," those cars have been driven by a variety of celebrities competing for lap times. "I can't tell you how many notes I've received from people telling me how cool those cars are," Gioia said. "It helps dispel the myths around battery electrics, such as that they're slow, like golf carts, and not responsive. There are a lot of people still afraid of this technology."

Ford sees a future in which electric cars will be seamlessly integrated with the smart grid so they can be charged off-peak, with cellphone control from owners. Gioia said that three or four of Ford's more than 20 test plug-in hybrid cars in utility fleets are now equipped with smart meters to allow that kind of touch-screen interaction. But soon the whole fleet will be so-equipped.

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