It’s time to put up or shut up about electric cars.
I admit I am a skeptic about pure electric cars as the road to the future. In certain circumstances such as dense inner city environments—yes; but in the real world of regular daily commutes—no.
Tested here is the 2012 Ford Focus Electric or more properly BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), which is just like any other Focus except there is no engine, gas tank and zero, and I mean zero, emissions.
Outwardly, it is identical to a standard Focus and so is most of the standard equipment.
Instead of an engine and gas tank, it has a 107-kW electric motor and a 23-kWh lithium-ion battery and a 6.6 kW onboard charger. The battery is both heated and cooled to cope with weather extremes. Ford in Michigan makes the battery in partnership with LG Chem.
Together, power is rated at 143 hp and 184 lb/ft of torque.
Ford claims it has a range of up to 160 km and top speed is 136 km/h with a one-speed transmission driving the front wheels.
It comes equipped with a special hand-held five-prong plug and a 10-foot electric cord with a grounded three-prong plug at the other end that goes into any standard 110-volt outlet.
Located on the left front fender, the charge port activates a light ring that illuminates the port twice when plugged in.
Each quadrant represents 25 per cent of the maximum battery charge. Flashing quadrants represent charge in progress and solid-lit quadrants show stages of charge completion.
The Electric was delivered to my home on a flatbed truck, a rather dubious beginning to this road test, the rationale being it was fully charged and ready to go as a courtesy.
The most obvious change inside for the driver is the main instrument cluster with a depiction of the battery to the left of the centre speedo showing Full at the top and Empty at the bottom. As power is consumed, the level goes down and shows roughly how many kilometers remain based on the way the car is being driven at the time.
You can add kms by braking and, as I was to find out, by coasting downhill.
The big issue with pure electric cars is ‘range anxiety’ which simply means do I have enough juice to make it to where I’m going or will I be stranded in the middle of a busy street or the middle of nowhere?
The other issue is charge time. On at standard 110-volt system 12 hours or more is common. Ford does offer a 240-volt charging station that is claimed to lower the charge time to something like four hours but costs $1,599 and has to be installed by the Geek Squad from Best Buy.
On my first trip around town I covered 80.1 km and used 12.7 kW. The display showed the battery down about 40 per cent. According to the supplementary readout, it was going to take 8.1 hours to recharge.
Plugging in inside our garage at 8 p.m. to take advantage of off-peak power rates, the blue ring was out, showing it was fully charged when I went out to check at 8 a.m. the next day.
That was quite acceptable, as getting around town and having it ready to go the next day is probably the main use this car will see.
But what about going to the limit, ergo about 141 to 145 km as shown on the battery graphic when it is fully charged?
The next day I decided to go for it and drove north on primarily two-lane highways averaging about 70 to 80 km/h which was the rate of the flow of traffic.
With 71 km remaining, I decided to turn around and return.
It all looked pretty good until I entered a town half way home while showing 58 km left in the battery. To my horror, I realized I was probably still about 45 to 50 km away from my garage.
The longer you brake, not how hard, puts more regenerative power in the battery. I was recapturing one to two km this way but it still looked like it was going to be close.
Being in a hilly moraine region, I’d gingerly accelerate up hills and then coast down the other side. This was good for another one to two km.
I probably irked a lot of drivers behind me but it sure worked. By the time I got home there was still 21 km in the battery.
The big lesson I learned here was not just to be realistic about range but to constantly practise battery regeneration tactics and make it an art.
My combined total driving that day was 124.0 km.
But I was shocked to see the summary readout say it was going to take 18.9 hours to recharge.
I plugged in at 8 p.m. and at 8 a.m. the next day three quadrants were solid and the fourth was flashing. I had to go out and when I came back six hours later, it was all topped up. I quesstimate it took about 13 to 14 hours to fully charge.
Total ground covered in both trips was 204.1 km with 29.9 kW used over a total of 4:11.56 hours used. Because hydro rates are different depending on where you live, I’ll let you do the math.
On top of that is the Canadian price of $41,199. Provincial rebates of up to $8,500 in Ontario, $8,000 in Quebec and $6,000 in B.C. lower the price to $32,696, $33,199 and $36,199 respectively.
That’s still pretty pricey for a car that can’t get you realistically beyond 130 to 140 km in 24 hours. The charging station isn’t cheap either but it sure makes sense if it cuts charging times dramatically.
On the other hand, judicious use makes the Ford Focus Electric a practical family car that never needs to see a fuel pump again.
With fuel costs ever rising, that attribute alone makes the Focus Electric a viable motive alternative and me much less skeptical.
Ford Focus Electric 2012
Body Style: five-door compact hatchback.
Drive Method: front electric motor, front wheel drive.
Engine: 107-kW electric motor and a 23-kWh lithium-ion battery for a combined 143 hp and 184 lb/ft of torque
Cargo Volume: 41.5 cu ft
Price: $41,199. Provincial rebates of $8,500 in Ontario, $8,000 in Quebec and $6,000 in B.C. Does not include $1,550 shipping fee
Web Site: www.ford.ca.