Ford Continues Emphasis on Plug-in Hybrids, Not EVs

By · June 10, 2014

Ford C-Max Energi Solar concept

In May, Ford once again showed its far-off solar-rooftop C-Max Energi concept, but is not talking about any future pure electric cars.

Ford is committed to vehicle electrification. But the company’s course for plug-in cars will be slow and steady, with an emphasis on plug-in hybrids over pure electric cars. Mike Tinskey, global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure at Ford Motor Co., told PluginCars.com that it has been a “tough road” for pure electric cars. “The plug-in hybrids have done really well,” he said.

A few days after making this statement, Nissan reported sales of 3,117 LEAFs in May, the best sales month ever for the pure electric car.

According to Tinskey, electrification is the only way the automaker can reach the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide reduction target of 450 parts per million in the air. “If you look at all the tools in our toolbox for how we are going to improve the environment, look at 450ppm, electrification is about the only tool that is going to get us there,” said Tinskey.

Ford currently offers two plug-in hybrid electrics and one pure electric vehicle. Tinskey would not say if Ford plans to introduce any more pure electric vehicles.

In the first five months of 2014, Ford sold 4,296 Fusion Energi and 2,940 C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. In this period compared to a year ago, Fusion Energi sales increased by 260 percent, and C-Max Energi by 45 percent. Ford’s combined yearly sales of two plug-in hybrids exceed the sales volume of the Chevy Volt, although it's not as high as the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

Ford lags way behind in pure EVs due to lack of market appeal (or company commitment) to the Focus Electric. Through May, Ford sold merely 699 Focus Electric pure EVs, 3.3 percent below last year. By comparison, in the first five months of 2014, Nissan sold 10,389 LEAF electric cars.

Half of Ford’s sales of plug-in electric cars are in California, said Tinskey. Around 900 of Ford’s some 3,000 Ford-Lincoln dealerships across the country sell the plug-in electric vehicles. To sell plug-in cars, dealers must invest in training and equipment. Ford doesn’t require any dealer to sell EVs. “It is purely a (dealer) demand piece,” said Tinskey.

Battery cost reduction is the key to boosting pure electric sales, said Tinskey. “If there is a breakthrough or tremendous amount of improvement in battery cost, it will move that curve,” he said. He would not predict if or when that might occur, however. “You won’t find Ford predicting (electric vehicle sales) are going to be X percent of the market,” said Tinskey.

Spotlight on Concept

Tinskey was in Los Angeles to show reporters Ford’s solar panel-equipped C-Max Energi concept vehicle. It is equipped with a solar panel on its roof that can help recharge the vehicle’s 7.6 kWh battery pack. Ford also showed the concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Ford will bring the model to market if it can “figure out all the challenges,” said Tinskey. One big challenge: Keeping the solar panel cool. The panel draws power from a special concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass. “It gets really hot,” he said.

Car washes are another challenge. “We have to make sure we’re robust,” said Tinskey. “That’s why we call it a concept.”

Comments

· · 3 years ago

I finally got a chance to test drive a CMax Energi this weekend. Ford has really put together a nice package. The CMax fits our family of four much better than a Volt would, while providing the EV experience that the PiP just can't. The trunk is compromised from the Hybrid (non-plug-in) CMax, but it is still larger than the Volt's. Plus, the rear seat is wide enough for an adult to fit between two car seats. I tried it myself, and it would work for short drives, but not long car trips.

I personally like Ford's Energi products. They are a good compromise. I hope as Ford evolves the product, they work to shrink the battery intrusion and add more capacity. With a larger battery, the Energi could compete head-on with the Volt in the EREV/PHEV category.

The solar roof, on the other hand, is a nice gimmick but not very functional. I hope they don't derail the evolution of the car by focusing on something purely for show.

· · 3 years ago

All well and good, but neither the C-Max nor Fusion Energi models has a decent trunk; then again, neither does the Volt (though at least the Fords can comfortably ferry friends to dinner or coworkers to lunch). I'm looking for a PHEV to replace our '05 Prius "road trip car" (so a real trunk is a requirement), and so far there are no viable candidates. Isn't long-distance travel capability the whole rationale for PHEVs?

The Prius PI (probably the least "EV" of the current crop, but at least it can haul our luggage) isn't even sold in our state (Toyota has yet to explain this).

Mitsubishi still can't get enough batteries to meet Outlander PHEV demand in Japan and Europe, so U.S. sales are not on the horizon (especially after CARB's latest out-of-the-blue move to require "new" PHEVs to provide battery condition monitoring).

So sure, I'm glad Ford and other carmakers think PHEVs are a more viable near-term electrification strategy than BEVs. Now maybe they can start delivering PHEVs that aren't hobbled by limited-utility configurations.

· · 3 years ago

I guess everyone's needs are different, but my family's "road trip car" is a 2010 Honda Insight. The trunk has more than sufficed to date (occasionally augmented by a Thule box up top) and the CMax Energi's trunk is 20% larger. I went through the exercise this weekend of actually loading large objects in the back (salesman thought I was going to steal the car but I can't be the only one to do this - can I?). The trunk space is quite sufficient for this family of 4, given our history with the smaller car - even at Christmas time hauling presents.

Then again, I know many people tell me that they "have to" have an SUV because they have kids and haul stuff. I disagree with that need, but it is set in their mind. So what we need is a PHEV to fill that need, even if it is perceived. Mitsubishi can't bring the Outlander to the US soon enough. And Ford/GM need to put their Energi/Voltec technology into larger cars already!

· · 3 years ago

If Ford is going to stick with plug in hybrids instead of any more EVs, they should release a new combustion engine that has lean burn! Atkinson cycle is showing it's age. The 4th gen Prius may still get Atkinson cycle but it will be very advanced

· · 3 years ago

@Brian: Well, in fairness, a Prius is hardly an SUV, and it's got a darned sight more cargo room than a C-Max Energi, especially if you want to have passengers in back and still see out the window. While you're right that my lack of interest in lashing boxes to my roof is my choice, it's a choice I imagine is fairly common.

My beef with the current crop of PHEVs isn't that they're not vans or SUVs. It's that they're not even full hatchbacks or sedans, their manufacturers having dumped battery packs in their trunks. That doesn't work for me, or really for most one-car households (or two-car households with an EV) picking out a new ride.

I'm not sure I want that much larger a car than a Volt, at least in terms of footprint. What I do want is a normal backseat (like a C-Max, say) and a proper trunk or hatch (like what a C-Max would have if there weren't 6 inches of battery taking up the bottom of it). The Outlander does a lot more than that, as did the Volt MPV5 concept, but I have to believe there's a viable package that's just a tad more compact than those if you took Mitsubshi's general approach to battery placement (i.e., stuck to the underside of the car, a bit like Tesla).

· · 3 years ago

Ford is only dipping their toe into the EV market. They definitely need to step up their EV game. We would consider buying an all electric Ford C Max if they offered one if they didn't penalize buyers with a smaller cargo area and if they offered a decent 85-100 mile range. We plan to purchase the Mercedes B ED (powered by Tesla) instead.

Any manufacturer that cannot compete with Tesla at this stage will spin their hybrid tech as superior. For many folks who need the range of a hybrid the Energi platform is good minus the penalty of cargo space. At this stage there is really no excuse not to completely hide the battery in the floor...

full disclosure: I own both F & TSLA

· · 3 years ago

Got my eye on Audi A3 wagon PHEV. Maybe a year away.

http://www.plugincars.com/first-drive-audi-a3-plug-hybrid-shows-vw-commi...

· · 3 years ago

@vike,

No, the Prius is not an SUV. My point in bringing that up is that there are people who truly believe that even a Prius is not large enough for their family - they "have to" have an SUV.

And yes, fair enough, roof boxes aren't a solution for everyone. I do like the compromise that I can have significantly more total luggage space that even the larger Prius, while still getting gas mileage comparable to a Civic. And when I don't need it (99% of the time), I don't carry it, and get gas mileage second only to a Prius (~45MPG).

My point really is that there are solutions, but many people don't accept the compromises. Truth is, many people just want to drive an SUV and then try to justify it as a "need". I have come to terms with that. We will make a larger impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions and gasoline consumption by converting larger vehicles to PHEVs/EREVs than trying (and inevitably failing) to get people to give up their larger cars for the current crop of PHEVs/EREVs.

· · 3 years ago

"Plus, the rear seat is wide enough for an adult to fit between two car seats. I tried it myself, and it would work for short drives, but not long car trips."

I assume they aren't Britax child seats...

I would love to see you sending us a picture fitting between two of those Britax child seats. Booster seats? Sure. Infant seats? possible. Two Britax Child seat? Forget about it...

· · 3 years ago

While not "Britax" brand, one was the same style - a reversible seat that goes from rear-facing to belt-positioning booster. From what I've seen in the store, they look roughly the same size. The other seat was a much smaller booster seat.

I used what I had, and that's really what matters to me since that's what I'd be using ;)

· · 3 years ago

@Brian wrote: . . . the [C-Max] rear seat is wide enough for an adult to fit between two car seats . . . I used what I had, and that's really what matters to me since that's what I'd be using ;)

And not to lose track of the main point, this is not a possibility with the Volt for any size car seats. Engineering triumph that it might be, the current generation Volt is one utterly pathetic packaging job, built with about as much regard for day-to-day utility as a Miata. Here's hoping the next version ups the ante - I'd love to have another option on my shopping list.

· · 3 years ago

its great! I cant afford any car right now. I got chapter 13, so I need information on how I can get one after I finish chapter 13

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