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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ford Electrifies The Focus

Ford is ramping up internally and with dealers to enter the electric vehicle race, and plans to learn from competitors preparing their own roll-outs.

Later to the game than General Motors Co and Nissan Motor Co, Ford's all-electric approach centers on a variant of its Focus sedan offering a 100-mile range between battery charges.

U.S. automakers are accelerating gasoline-electric hybrid and electric vehicle plans and production to meet tougher U.S. fuel economy standards and consumer demand for higher-mileage vehicles.

President Barack Obama wants a 50 percent reduction in fuel consumption and carbon emissions in cars and trucks within 20 years to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and ease global warming.

Ford's effort for electric Transit Connect vans and the Focus as well as follow-on plug-in hybrids centers on flexibility and controlling costs to make them affordable for consumers.

The automaker is leveraging a high-volume vehicle platform common to other models produced globally and is looking to build on GM's experience with the Chevy Volt hybrid and Nissan's roll-out of its all-electric Leaf.

"Since they'll be out before us, we'll know a lot," Sue Cischke, Ford's safety and environmental affairs vice president, said on Tuesday on the sidelines of a forum with Energy Department, business development and electric utility experts.

The lack of broad market research due to the absence of mass-produced electric vehicles makes it "tough to know where things are going" with consumers, making the GM and Nissan experiences especially important initially.

"We'll learn from what they're doing, how they're marketing it," Cischke said.

Ford has said small-scale electric vehicle production will start next year with a bigger run planned for 2012. Cischke was not specific on numbers but said Ford's entry will be measured. The production strategy will allow for quick adjustments as the market evolves and costs change, she said.

The company will soon reach out to its dealers to update them on electric vehicle plans and efforts to create a network of charging stations.

The Volt is expected to retail for $33,500 after a federal tax credit, $8,000 more than the Leaf. California and other states are offering additional incentives.

U.S. manufacturers are likely to offer their first battery-powered cars in warmer weather states in part due to consumer incentives. Also, cold climates are harder on battery performance.

Gasoline-electric hybrids, the closest thing to an electric car on the road in any sizable numbers today, represent about 2 percent of the U.S. automotive market. The Toyota Prius is the best-selling hybrid.

Hybrids have traditionally gotten a boost from high gasoline prices, which rose for the third-straight week, to $2.83. That's 26 cents above year-ago levels.

Ford's advanced vehicle effort has been helped by $5.9 billion of U.S. government loans in 2009. The Energy Department is considering similar loan applications from government-owned GM and Chrysler, which is under the management control of Fiat Spa.

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