Ford debuts all-electric car

For the first time outside of a major auto show, Ford has introduced a new car, the Focus Electric

Ford Motor Company debuted its first all-electric vehicle, the Focus Electric, at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show Friday. It is one of five new electrified vehicles that will be available in North America and Europe by 2013.

To see a video report of the Ford Focus Electric, visit YouTube.

The announcement is particularly significant because it's the first time that the company has announced a car outside of a major auto show.

Ford was vague on the Focus' performance specifications. "It's a bit early to talk about the powertrain, but certainly the range will be competitive with other battery electric vehicles," said Derrick Kuzak, vice president of product development at Ford.

To benchmark, the Nissan Leaf, also an electric vehicle, has a range of 100 miles and top speed of about 90 miles per hour. The Focus' top speed is 84 miles per hour.

Kuzak said that the Focus electric will recharge in about three to four hours, which according to him is about half the time of competitors.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally said that some challenges to overcome in the future will be cost and charging infrastructure.

"The cost of batteries for the all electrics and the size and the charging requirements are going to be relatively limited for the near term until we get the infrastructure in place and we get more capable and more cost effective batteries.

To help with the charging infrastructure, Ford has partnered with Best Buy and Leviton to install home charging stations, costing about US$1,500 each.

"The home charging station will be 220 volts and allows the three- to four-hour charge time and also provides value charging," Kuzak said. Value charging means that the unit will charge the car when energy prices are the lowest. Kuzak said its designed to provide the best cost of ownership for customers.

The car is powered by a lithium-ion battery system made by Ford and LG Chem. The system uses heated and cooled liquid to maximize battery life. For example, on cold days, a heated liquid will warm the batteries and bring them to a temperature that can efficiently accept a charge and provide enough power for expected vehicle performance.

Ford wouldn't say how much the Focus Electric would cost, but for comparison the Nissan Leaf costs about $32,000.

Mulally thinks that electric is only the beginning for alternatively fueled cars saying, "I think overtime we'll even see more hydrogen vehicles."

Ford admits that electric cars aren't for everyone though.

"Customers who choose an electric vehicle at this point are really making a statement," Kuzak said. "They're making a statement about their environmental sensitivity, their energy independence and we'd like to support them."

The Ford Focus Electric will be available in late 2011.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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