Will the U.S. and Europe Get a Ford Plug-in Hybrid Mini-Minivan?

· · 8 years ago

Last week Ford used the Paris Auto Show to announce that they are still on track to deliver five new electrified vehicles to the U.S. market by 2012 and Europe by 2013. While at first blush the announcement didn't seem to shed much new light on Ford's plans—aside from a "Yeah, we're still heading in that direction" kind of vibe—after mulling it all over, it's becoming clear that Ford has some surprises up its sleeves.

As many of you know, in the U.S. Ford's electrification plans include the Ford Transit Connect Electric (available now), Ford Focus Electric (available next year), as well as two unannounced next generation hybrids with lithium-ion battery packs and one unannounced plug-in hybrid due before the end of 2012.

Given the success of the current Ford Fusion Hybrid, you can assume that one of those next generation hybrids will be an updated Ford Fusion Hybrid. While the other next gen hybrid platform is up in the air, looking at Ford's lineup it would only make sense for them to put it into a larger platform on another successful vehicle to compete with the likes of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid—say the Ford Edge, which, by no coincidence, the automaker has been upping the green ante on already with the inclusion of an EcoBoost engine option for 2011.

The Escape Hybrid has also been a perennial best seller, and Ford has done a lot of research on their Plug-in Hybrid Escape prototypes over the last few years, so it has kind of been assumed that the plug-in hybrid Ford releases before the end of 2012 will be wrapped in an Escape package. But after the announcement that Ford would be releasing both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid in Europe based on their C-Max platform, the assumption that the plug-in hybrid in the U.S. will be the Escape is a bit up in the air.

For those that don't know, the C-Max is one of these new—for lack of a better term—mini-minivans. In Europe it's available as both a 5-seater and a 7-seater. The U.S. is set to get the 7-seater version some time within the next year, indicating that Ford thinks the American market is ready for more of these types of vehicles—essentially the same thing as a Mazda 5. To boot, the C-Max is based on the same platform, called the C1 platform, as the Ford Focus and is set to be used on many of Ford's next generation vehicles—including the next gen Escape. It's all part of their "One Ford" strategy to bring costs down by having as few platforms as possible for the global market and simply changing the "skin" on those vehicles to suit regional tastes when necessary.

Given that Ford is in the middle of spending lots of energy trying to whittle down their lineup to as few global platforms as possible, it just doesn't seem likely that they will develop two separate platforms for plug-in hybrid vehicles to distribute in Europe and the U.S.. What seems more likely is that if Europe is getting a plug-in hybrid based on the C-Max, the U.S. will also get that vehicle, or at least a plug-in hybrid that uses the same platform—such as the next gen Escape.

Ford was very careful in their wording to say that the plug-in hybrid and next gen hybrids they release before the end of 2013 in Europe would be "based" on the C-Max. With a little stretching, that could mean the next gen Escape. Or, more likely, it means that Ford's plug-in hybrid architecture is being developed to be easily switched between all of the vehicles based on the C1 platform. Europe may get a C-Max PHEV and the U.S. may still get the Escape PHEV, or both regions could get the Escape PHEV. The beauty of Ford's plan is that it is very fluid and can adapt to changing market demands quickly.

So, although it's still unclear which Ford vehicles will get the PHEV treatment in the U.S. and Europe over the next few years, that is something Ford doesn't have to decide until it knows how well the 7-seat C-Max is selling in the U.S.

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