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 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.”

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