I Like Ford's Electric Focus

July 6, 2012
Technology Editor Bill Wong had a chance to test Ford's new 2012 Focus Electric at Ford's test track along with a few other vehicles including the 2012 Ford Mustang.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ford Motor Company and check out some of the new vehicles. We were also able to talk with some of the engineers who worked on the design of Ford Focus Electric like the Chief Engineer, Chuck Gray (Fig. 1). You can check out the video we did at Ford on Engineering TV. The professionals were driving the 2012 Ford Mustang GT with a 5-litre V8 latest F150 truck and we could hitch a ride with them. I decided to do my own driving including the 6 cylinder, standard shift version of the Ford Mustang and the 5-passenger Ford Focus Electric (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Technology Editor Bill Wong finds out about details under the Ford Focus Electric's hood from Chief Engineer Chuck Gray at Ford's test track.

Not surprisingly, the Mustang was a thrill to drive but the Focus Electric was no slouch. Still, the track we had access to actually made the Focus look good because of all the turns. I couldn't get the Mustang out of third gear. Still, I gave our cameraman, Curtis Ellzey, a rough time by pushing the Focus around some tight turns. The 4-wheel disc anti-lock brake system has a regenerative braking system that can improve efficiency as well as making sure the car stops when you want it. I pushed it so my power usage was not minimized but it was fun to drive.

Figure 2. The 2012 Ford Focus Electric looks like the typical Ford Focus on the outside. It is under the hood where they differ.

Like most electrics, the Focus Electric is fast off the mark. It has a top speed of 84 mph but it does best accelerating under 40 mph. Gas cars tend to do better as their RPMs climb. The front-wheel drive Focus Electric has a single speed transmission. It just has forward and reverse.

The Ford Focus is a good handling car and the electric version reflects that heritage. The electric version may not keep up at higher speeds especially compared to the Ford Focus ST but that is not the intended market. The Ford Focus Electric has more than enough power to keep most people happy. The 107 kW electric motor cranks out 123 HP.

Actually the issues most people seem to have with electric vehicles in general are range and charge time. The Focus Electric does well in both areas. On a good day it has a 100 mile range while the EPA estimate is 76 miles.

Charge time depends upon the power supply. It takes 4 hours for a full charge at 240V but almost 20 hours at 120V with the onboard 6.6 kW charger . The Nissan Leaf takes almost twice as long to charge at 240V. The Leviton 240V home charging station with standard installation is $1,499.

The Ford Focus Electric's power system is a 23 kWh, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery system (Fig. 3). The system actually heats or cools the batteries to optimal temperature and it is tied into the overall cooling system. The lithium-ion batteries has a number of advantages compared to other battery technologies like NiMH. Power density is higher and charging is faster as noted.

Figure 3. The 2012 Ford Focus Electric uses the same frame as the regular Focus with the addition of the battery system.

The electrics tend to be costlier so it makes sense to include higher end electronics. One item that is standard is the driving coach (Fig. 4). This feedback system uses the dashboard display. It provides the percent efficiency of the regenerative braking system each time the brakes are applied.

Figure 4. Ford's "break coach" helps drivers improve their driving habits to optimize power recovery when braking.

A gentle braking process is more efficient than a fast, hard stop. I didn't do too well when pushing the car around the curves. Of course, I wasn't really looking at the dashboard when trying to get around the course in a minimum amount of time. I normally drive a Toyota Prius so I know how to drive more efficiently when I want to.

We had a chance to record a number of our interviews for Engineering TV. I'll add some links here when they have been posted. They Ford videos will be found on the Trade Shows section. These include some presentations on one of Ford's wind tunnels (Fig. 5) used to reduce the air resistance of the cars like the Ford Fusion.

Figure 5. Ford's wind tunnel was used to streamline the design for Ford's fleet including the 2012 Fusion.

Unfortunately my cars are rather new so I will not be replacing them any time soon but when I do I will be taking a closer look at the Ford Focus Electric. They are likely to be more available in a few months. A multiphase roll out is occuring this fall. New York, New Jersey and California are on the leading edge but Pennsylvania is bringing up the rear.

Cost will be an issue for some. The base list price is $39,200. The car is still pricey even with the government rebate.

The Ford Focus Electric is not for everyone and it is definitely targeting a select few right now. Then again, I would never consider buying an F150 truck. Still, the Ford Focus Electric is a great option for those that are interested in an electric car.

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