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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ford’s Focus on Electric Cars

Air Date: Week of

Nancy Gioia shows Jeff Young the engine of the Ford Focus.

Host Jeff Young gets behind the wheel of the all-electric Ford Focus, with Ford’s head of electric cars riding shotgun. We’ll hear what this iconic but struggling automaker has planned for electric drive vehicles, and whether the billions U.S. taxpayers are pumping into cleaner cars is paying off.


YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. The Obama administration is making a big money bet on cleaner cars. The Department of Energy has loaned eight and a half billion dollars so far to help automakers retool for fuel efficiency and that’s on top of the bailout money for Chrysler and GM. About two-point four billion went specifically toward electric vehicle research. So, just how are US carmakers doing in the electric car effort? Ford has a few electric and plug-in hybrid models in the works. And Nancy Gioia who directs Ford’s Global Electrification offered us a test drive. She met me with the keys for what looked like an ordinary Ford Focus.

GIOIA: That’s our ride - it’s a battery electric Focus.

The Ford Focus battery.

YOUNG: Tell me about it.

GIOIA: Well, it goes up to a hundred mile range is the target. It’s fully a battery-electric vehicle, so there’s no engine, no emission systems, no fuel tank, all of those things. Instead, what we have is a high-voltage, lithium-ion battery that then drives electric motors that drive the wheels.

YOUNG: So, are we charged up?

GIOIA: We’re charged up.

YOUNG: Charged up, ready to roll?

GIOIA: Ready to roll, let’s go!

YOUNG: Let’s take it for a spin, alright.


YOUNG: All righty, so now it’s going to go “vroom vroom” when I start it up, right?

GIOIA: It’s not going to say or do anything for ya. There you go.

Nancy Gioia shows Jeff Young the engine of the Ford Focus.

YOUNG: Has it started?

GIOIA: You’re good to go.


GIOIA: So just go ahead, press into it.

YOUNG: All righty.

GIOIA: One of the myths is electric vehicles are slow or not very responsive.

YOUNG: Like overgrown golf cart or something like that.

GIOIA: Exactly. But let me tell ya, battery-electrics are peppy, lots of torque, lots of fun-to-drive capability.

YOUNG: Peppy, eh? I’m going to test the acceleration.


YOUNG: Wheeeee! Yeah, I felt that. It handles really well. It’s tight.

GIOIA: You know, what we tried to do is make it respond just like a regular Focus does. So, the ride, the handling, the steering.

YOUNG: So, what are the big barriers from the consumer’s point-of-view, do you think? Is it – it’s the range, the charging, that sort of thing?

The Ford Focus Engine.

GIOIA: Absolutely, range anxiety from a customer standpoint for battery-electrics, probably top of mine. Affordability – these will be more expensive vehicles. And many customers, over the life cycle, the fuel cost versus the upfront vehicle cost, many of our customers separate those in their mind. When they buy a car, they don’t also think about the fuel cost over the lifetime of that vehicle or their use. When you buy a battery-electric, we need to make sure people understand if you think about those in conjunction this could actually be a great payback for you.


GIOIA: Let’s hop out!


GIOIA: Any other questions on a battery-electric?

YOUNG: Uh, well, I get to keep these right?


GIOIA: No, we’ll take the keys back. [Laughs]

YOUNG: Oh, okay. Can we take a look at what makes it work?

GIOIA: Absolutely, sure. Under the hood and under the body.


GIOIA: There you go. Okay, so what you see here is obviously the engine’s missing. [Laughs] So, it has a big difference. Underneath is motors that drive the wheels. And we have electric air conditioning, you know, we have things still like our radiator fuels and all the other things that have to run, but those are then run by electric elements instead of hydraulic.

YOUNG: So, if people buy this electric Focus, are they going to have places where they can plug in, and what’s Ford doing along those lines?

GIOIA: Yeah, what we’re doing is we’re working with our utility partners very closely to understand how to make sure our vehicle is compatible with the utility grid. We’re also working with cities, laying out maps for what kind of infrastructure is needed – what’s customer behavior like? So that as city planners and things like this jump, in they can start to include this.

YOUNG: So, you’re going to be making 5,000 or so of these in the initial go-around. That doesn’t sound like that many cars, given the number of cars that Ford makes. How big a part of the picture will electric vehicles be for Ford?

The new Ford Focus.

GIOIA: We think by 2020 we’ll have to have ten to 25 percent of our new fleet electrified. Electrification’s a core part of our fleet going forward and our technology going forward. We think it’s essential.

YOUNG: The Asian automakers, in general, seem so far out ahead on this. Everyone knows about the Prius, I see a lot of Honda hybrids on the road. Can Ford and the other US automakers catch up?

GIOIA: Well, I think – just one fact: Ford is the second largest producer of full hybrids in the world. We have absolutely encouraged domestic battery manufacture, because having that knowledge and ability to make energy storage here in this country and every region around the world is really important. It’s energy security, it helps on climate change, and it helps unemployment security.

YOUNG: Ford has such a history, an iconic American company. Where does what you’re doing with electric vehicles, you think, fit in the legacy of Ford as a motor company, as an innovator?

GIOIA: Well, it absolutely fits right in, as a matter of fact, back in the early 1900’s, 1911 to 1917 to 1930 even, electric vehicles were a big part of America’s auto fleet – 30 percent were electrified. So, as we went forward, it’s always been about the battery. The great news is the technology is finally there and we’re putting the vehicles on the road that can help customers enjoy their drive and use less fuel.

YOUNG: What do you think Henry Ford would think if he were here looking at these?

GIOIA: Oh, I think he’d love it. He would say, why did it take so long?


YOUNG: Well, Nancy Gioia, very nice to meet you.

GIOIA: Hey, Jeff, I really appreciate it, thanks for your time today.




Click here for Ford’s Top Ten Eco Driving Tips

Ford’s Smart Gauge Guide


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