Ford is getting charged up about the introduction of its all-new, 100% gasoline-free Focus Electric.*
By Adam Risman
Photographs by J. Kane
It began in a Ford conference room during the final days of 2008. Having successfully delivered hybrid variations of the Fusion and Escape, Ford now had the technology and background to take the next logical step—an all-electric vehicle.
At that time, however, the rule book had yet to be written. “There were no competitor products,” says powertrain engineering team leader Steve Daleiden. And that led to a very big initial question: “What does an electric vehicle (EV) need to do in order to satisfy the future customer? The definition of a successful EV really didn’t exist.”
Although Daleiden and his team didn’t have a road map for their all-electric journey, experience with hybrid electric vehicles supplied a wealth of knowledge to lean on. “We found that people who buy hybrids love premium content,” he says. “They want technology in the car, and they want gadgets that are different for that car. We decided that idea had to be applied to the Focus Electric as well.”
The Focus Electric instrument panel looks cool, but the car’s true technological trophy is stowed away underneath its trunk: an active liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. “The battery was one of the biggest breakthroughs of this project,” says Focus Electric program manager Stefan Pototschnik.
Because extreme temperatures affect battery life, a new system was designed to keep the batteries at just the right level. On hot days, chilled water absorbs heat from the battery, and on cold days, heated water raises battery temperature.
As a result, Focus Electric operates efficiently in a range of temperatures, something that Daleiden cites as critical not just to battery performance but also to battery life. “The one thing you don’t want this battery to do is fail on the customer. Ideally, you’re not going to have to replace the battery during the life of the vehicle,” he says.
Plug and Play
Gasoline-free cars have sounded good in concept (and on the wallet) since long before Ford engineers made their first napkin sketches of Focus Electric. But the practicality of such technology had been stalled by an enormous roadblock—charge time. “Charge time is critical to an electric vehicle,” Pototschnik says. “The shorter the charge time, the more practical the vehicle is going to be.”
During the early phases of design, Focus Electric called for a low-power onboard charger, which would have required an eight-hour overnight charge. But Ford engineers decided that wasn’t fast enough. So they set out to design a 6.6-kilowatt system that, when equipped with the recommended Leviton 240-volt home charging station, fully charges the battery in just three to four hours. (To learn more about this Best Buy®–installed option, see In-Home Installation Made Easy.)
“This wasn’t in our plans at the beginning,” Pototschnik says of the groundbreaking charge option, “but it was something we quickly realized had to be done.”
The Electric Co-Pilot
Focus Electric is specifically engineered to make gasoline-free driving as natural as possible. At the center of that concept lies the smartest Ford console display yet.
“With MyFord Touch®, we have a great system that allows for a wealth of information to be displayed,” Pototschnik says. And when that's coupled with the unique instrument cluster in Focus Electric, he adds, “we’re able to let drivers know their vehicles’ charge level and where they’re capable of going, while also giving tips and coaching techniques on how to get the most from their vehicles.”
When a driver hops in and sets a destination, the eight-inch touch screen registers the route. As the drive begins, the cluster in the vehicle’s dash shows the estimated range on the current charge. If there’s a desire to charge up mid-trip, MyFord Touch displays places to plug in along the way. Plus, Ford is one of seven auto manufacturers that have agreed to offer a universal one-size-fits-all plug for the next generation of public charge stations.
This technology isn’t just available behind the wheel; it’s constantly accessible through MyFord® Mobile. The smartphone app designed exclusively for Ford electrified vehicles uses the power of cloud computing to provide live charging status and remotely heat, charge or start the car, and more. It is the only app that includes an integrated charge station finder, and it even took home the Innovations Design and Engineering Award** at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show.
Coach ’em up
“Gasoline is just a way of storing energy on board a vehicle—just like a battery is a way of storing energy,” Pototschnik says. “So driving styles that help fuel economy in a gas vehicle are the same ones that help improve driving range in an electric vehicle.”
The familiar rules apply: everything in moderation. To get the maximum range out of Focus Electric, drivers should consider four distinct factors: braking, acceleration, climate control usage and speed—and monitoring each of these quickly becomes intuitive.
In case you need a little training, Ford engineers added a braking “coach” to the vehicle’s instrument cluster, and it encourages stopping habits that can increase range. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the concept originally appeared in Fusion Hybrid.) How does it work? Focus Electric uses a regenerative braking system that recovers kinetic energy each time the brakes are applied and sends that energy back to the vehicle’s battery. But say a driver tends to brake heavily: When the brakes are slammed, the system works less efficiently, and that triggers corrective advice from the car’s resident coach.
Walking the Walk
To engineers like Pototschnik and Daleiden, none of this cutting-edge technology would mean a thing if the electric car didn’t drive like a normal car. Nearly three years after that initial meeting, Daleiden was finally able to get behind the wheel of a near-production version of the vehicle, which was built locally at the Michigan assembly plant—and boy, did it take off!
“With an electric motor, you have almost instantaneous torque available,” he says. “The vehicle responds very quickly. The team really delivered.”
That statement came as no surprise to Pototschnik. He knew what drivers would get the moment Ford decided to use the Focus as the platform for the company’s first all-electric vehicle.
“In the Focus, we knew we had a world leader,” he says. “It’s one of the best small cars out there. Why would we redesign something from the ground up when we could build on a great global platform?”
Learn more about the newest gasoline-free Ford.