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Electric inside: Ford chose to rework the guts of its existing Focus model for its first mass-production all-electric vehicle.

Ford claims that a person’s driving habits and the car’s ability to reclaim energy during braking mean that a battery should actually last 100 miles per charge. It has also designed software for the car, and for a companion mobile app, to train drivers to squeeze the most out of their batteries.

A “brake coach” display next to the speedometer attempts to train drivers to recover as much energy as possible by braking early and smoothly. It provides clear feedback designed to encourage a driver’s competitive spirit. For example, when I pulled out into the stop-start traffic of downtown San Francisco (ideal conditions for recovering power), the dashboard told me I had 75 miles left in the battery. When my five-mile trip was over, it still said I had 75 miles left, since I had recovered 99 percent of the energy expended.

The associated smart-phone app, MyFord Mobile, tracks a car’s performance and can be used to share efficiency figures online, enabling drivers to compete against other Focus Electric owners and win (virtual) prizes.

Ford’s most significant innovation in the war against what is known as “range anxiety” will likely be the fact that it can charge fully in just under four hours (half the time it takes a Nissan Leaf to charge), thanks to high-power charging circuitry on board the car. However, getting that rapid charging requires a 240-volt connection in your home and paying $1,499 for the necessary “smart charger.” Those will be available from Best Buy, hinting at a future where electronics retailers are as important to your car as auto parts stores.

The car’s efficiency figures may help impress prospective buyers. The EPA says the Focus Electric can achieve the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon on the highway and 110 in the city (for a combined mpg equivalent of 105). Ford says that makes the car the most efficient five-seater in the world. The Leaf’s equivalent stats are 92 on the highway, 106 in the city, and 99 combined. Ford says that $2.10 of electricity at the average domestic price is enough for 60 miles of driving in an electric Focus—meaning that for the cost of a gallon of gas in San Francisco, the car could travel 120 miles.

Electrifying the Focus has required some trade-offs, though, mainly to accommodate the weight and size of its battery. The car’s slightly lower center of mass is one result; a more serious one is that the battery and its charger take a substantial bite out of the trunk space.

The car is currently in production in Dearborn, Michigan, on the same production lines that make conventional versions of the Focus. Factories in China, Russia, and Western Europe will also be able to make multiple versions in the future, and the Focus will ultimately be available as a hybrid as well as a gas, diesel, or electric car. 

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Credits: Technology Review

Tagged: Business, electric vehicles, Ford, Nissan Leaf

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