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On Friday, Ford unveiled the Focus Electric vehicle, which will go on sale late this year. It introduced the car not at an auto show (the big North American International Auto show is next week in Detroit) but at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. That’s consistent with the way it’s positioning the car, not so much as a car but as an electric device. While GM dealt with the limited range of electric vehicles by adding a gasoline engine to its Volt electric drive car, Ford is adding touch screens and other displays that will help drivers cope with the limited range, and even turn budgeting the car’s stored energy into a sort of game.

“Rather than minimize the realities of battery range and the need for more conscious trip planning in an electric vehicle, we’ve made it a core part of the ownership experience, giving owners the tools to actively manage how they can drive their car based on where they need to go,” John Schneider, a Ford chief engineer said in a press release issued on Friday. “[B]udgeting screens will help drivers understand exactly what they can accomplish - and how they need to drive - given the available charge,” he said. In addition to giving the driver information about battery charge and advice about how to eke out as much range as possible, the system will also help them find charging stations (which are still rare in most of the country). According to the press release, “achieving maximum range in Focus Electric will be a big part of the fun for most drivers.”

The approach seems similar to what Nissan has done with its electric Leaf—Nissan also includes information about charge state and charging stations.

Ford is waiting for EPA estimates of the driving range, but judging by the graphics it’s using to illustrate the car’s dashboard displays and fact sheet about the car, the range will be about 80 miles, or 20 miles less than the range Nissan advertised for the Leaf. While Nissan claimed 100 miles, the EPA puts the range at 73. How the Focus fares will depend on the kinds of driving Ford used in its estimates. Even if it has a shorter initial range, the Ford Focus might be a better bet in the long run—it has a liquid cooling and heating system that could extend the life of the battery pack (the Leaf has a less-capable air cooling system, and the heating system costs extra).

All of this budgeting and concern about range sounds like a hassle to me, not a game. What is fun about electric cars is the responsiveness that comes from an electric motor’s instant torque. Those who have a commute that’s comfortably within the range of the car, and have access to another car for longer trips, should test drive the car. Then the electric drive, if it’s as good as what we’re seeing in other electric cars, will sell itself.

Today Ford announced two more cars–a new hybrid and a new plug-in hybrid. More on these to follow.

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Tagged: Energy, energy, electric car, Nissan Leaf, gm volt

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