The 2009 Detroit Auto Show marked a truly profound inflection point in the history of the automobile, as nearly every major automaker has either revealed electric cars or plans to build them.
Ford made an especially strong jump on the scene announcing that they will begin mass production of a battery-electric vehicle, yet unnamed, in 2011.
I was specifically invited by Ford and given a special opportunity to actually test drive a prototype. At this point the vehicle is based on the Ford Focus body, which is known as a C-class sedan.
When I arrived for my test drive out on the cold street in front of the Detroit Cobo convention center, I found the unassuming Focus was adorned with bright yellow plug graphics to let you know what was under the hood. I was given a tour of the engine compartment and could see the large electric motor, power electronic module, and 400V high voltage cables running back from the engine compartment.
After getting into the driver’s seat I turned the key and heard a little clicking, but no crank of course, and then the charge indicator lit up letting me know we could drive.
I pulled away and found the silent instant torque exciting and different, even though the car only does 0 to 60 in 10 seconds. There was no problem merging with traffic. There is no transmission, just a gearcase with planetary gears. The car performed flawlessly over a three or so mile city drive, and braking wasn’t harsh as a vacuum component was added to make the brakes more natural. They are of course regenerative.
There were a few little rough points such as some vibratory noise and a varying reading on the charge level meter, but what does one expect for such an early mule?
The battery is split into two packs, one below the cabin and the other in the trunk.
Overall the pack has 23 kWh of stored energy, and uses prismatic lithium-ion cells. Ford would not say whose cells were inside.
There are currently two of these early mules and the one I was in had only gone about 300 miles or so so far in its life. Ford is working with component-maker Magna who makes many of the components and is actually evaluating lithium-ion cells from up to 6 companies.
I was assured by Ford VP of powertrain Barb Samardzich in an interview that Ford intends to bring this car to production. The actual unique design is being developed now and a full production program is underway with a hard goal of a 2011 launch. She expects the final vehicle to have a 100 mile range and to roll out gradually. She expects to build at least 10,000 copies the first year and pledges to build more if the market demands.
Ford would not disclose what their target price was for the car but advised that Ford is a company that builds affordable cars. But don’t expect it to be too cheap, when asked if the car could be kept below $20,000 one executive said “that the batteries alone” would cost that much.
Ford’s entry into the EV realm could be construed as reactionary to the wide publicity the Volt has enjoyed, but Ms. Samardzich advised me Ford has a 10 year history of vehicular electrification going back to the early engineering that led to the Escape hybrid in 2004.
The fact they have shown so much detail on this EV and allowed this blogger to drive such an early prototype likely indicates a strong need to “prove” they are really going to do it.
At this point I’m sure they will, and our quest to break this country from oil addiction has turned yet another chapter.
And for what its worth, Ford actually beat GM in allowing me to drive their electric car first.