Focus EV codifies Ford’s new electrification strategy

  • 09-Jan-2011 08:50 EST

High-volume Ford platforms will involve routing EVs, hybrids, and plug-ins down the same assembly lines to keep production costs below purpose-built competitors. A fast-charging system at lower cost is noteworthy Focus EV feature.

The forthcoming Ford Focus EV (electric vehicle), to be introduced later this year, isn’t the company’s first step into electrification, but it will be one introduced with an announced strategy that sets a very different path than other OEMs to date. It also shows how Ford hopes to lead in price competitiveness.

A major advantage cited by Ford at its opening announcements was a faster 208-240 V (Level 2) charging system, capable of recharging in half the time, such as 3-4 h for what is expected to be a 100-mi (160-km) range.

The Focus EV follows closely behind the 2011 Transit Connect EV which recently entered production. While the electric Transit Connect’s propulsion system was engineered primarily by Azure Dynamics, the Focus EV’s powertrain was developed in collaboration with Magna E-Car Systems. The supplier will provide the car’s 92-kW AC traction motor, single-speed transmission, motor controller, and battery pack. Magna E-Car worked closely with Ford to integrate the electric propulsion system and other subsystems into the vehicle architecture.

The primary part of its cost-leading strategy is that the Focus EV will come down the same Wayne, MI, assembly line as the gasoline engine models, and later, hybrids and plug-in hybrids too. When a Focus starts down the line, it could be any one of the variants, and the line itself is sufficiently flexible so that no shunt loops are required, explained Eric Kuehn, the company's Chief Engineer for Global Hybrid Electrification.

The assembly line, therefore, will treat each Focus variant in a similar way, so that if a pure EV is selling particularly well at the time, more of the specific “modules” for that will be installed. Though the gasoline engine versions surely will be the highest volume, Ford production is less committed to any one variant than to the total sales of the Focus line. The unique front end of the EV is a specific module just as is the rear end of the five-door hatchback.

There will be no “purpose-built” Ford models in the electrification strategy, as Nissan has done with the Leaf and General Motors with the ChevroletToyota has been demonstrating in its approach to go along with the purpose-built Prius. Ford's electrification strategy will be by platform, and at this time is intended only be applied to the high-volume world automobile platforms.

The “suite” of products from each platform is what will “provide better fuel economy for all customers, not just those who can afford expensive niche vehicles,” stressed Ford Chairman Bill Ford, speaking at a New York City showing of the EV for dealers and the press that coincided with the car's unveiling by Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show

But doesn’t the public seem to favor the special look of the purpose-built models, such as Prius vs. hybrid models of gasoline engine cars, including those produced by Toyota itself? Ford studies indicate tha.t as the market expands, this will not be a factor for the buyers that will be considering Ford EVs and hybrids, Kuehn added. He said a specific front-end design should be adequate visual differentiation.

The Focus EV will not be introduced until later this year, so there is no hint of pricing. However, Nancy Gioia, Director, Global Electrification Strategy, pointed to several additional steps Ford will be taking to enhance its competitive position.

One involves the 23-kW·h battery pack. The cells are from LG Chem, also the supplier for the Volt and Hyundai Sonata hybrid, so they are the lithium-polymer pouch type developed by the supplier. The rated performance number is just below the 24 kW·h for the lithium-ion manganese cells used by Nissan.

In response to questions, Gioia noted that industry observers might consider this a subject for comparison, as Nissan uses only air cooling for the pack (liquid cooling for the motor electronics), whereas Ford has a liquid-cooling system that covers thermal management of both. She said the liquid thermal management system is part of a battery-capacity-utilization strategy that enables the Focus EV to provide a competitive vehicle range at lower cost.

However, this can’t be compared directly with Nissan’s claim that its laminar battery cells, produced in a joint venture with NEC, run cooler and therefore provide superior performance and life. The cells are different, have different (undisclosed) costs, and furthermore, vehicle range is determined by the overall engineering package, not just the battery-pack rating.

At a 6.6 kW charge rate at a 32-A peak, the Ford-specced battery charger not only is capable of double the typical Level 2 rate of other 208-240 V systems, but it said to be available at the lowest installed price to date—$1500, which Ford says is 30% lower than competitive models.

The charger is custom designed by Leviton, a U.S. manufacturer of home/industrial electric/electronic components, which has been advertising its EvrGreen chargers and their ability to charge at higher rates if desired. Ford’s agreement is tied to marketing through Best Buy stores, which will use its Geek Squad to make all sales, installation, and service arrangements with the 208-240 V outlets to be installed by contract electricians.

Because the Leviton charger is a lightweight—8.0-lb (3.6-kg) plug-in unit, it can be taken from a home garage when the owner moves, possibly even carried on a trip to a destination with a suitable outlet. A 120-V convenience cord, with Yazaki-designed ergonomic plug, comes with the vehicle. Leviton is marketing another version of its fast charger for all EV applications, but no other car manufacturer has announced compatibility with the 6.6-kW charge rate.

This Ford announcement could lead the makers of other EVs to evaluate the possibility and, if necessary, modify and/or reprogram their vehicles. Nissan has been promoting the use of dc fast chargers, with their ability to charge to 80% within 30 min, but Gioia has questions about the possible effect on battery-pack durability that could limit its applications.

As with the Nissan Leaf, the Focus EV will have numerous range-awareness features on its instrument-panel displays. It will incorporate a wireless cellular module called My Ford Mobile, which can communicate with smartphones to transmit battery state-of-charge and accept a programmed charging schedule.

A Ford tie with internet portal Mapquest also will enable the smartphone and the Focus EV itself to receive and display locations of public charging stations. Other driving directions, including an “eco-route” specifically for EVs, will go through Ford’s popular Sync telematics system using the My Ford Touch display screen on the center stack.

In addition to range-awareness information, the Focus EV cluster can enable “brake coach,” a display in which the percentage of regeneration is shown when the car is braked to a stop. This encourages the driver to brake gently when possible, Gioia said, without the intrusiveness of the aggressive regeneration automatically provided by “ECO” settings on competitive models.

According to Derrick Kuzak, Group Vice President of Product Development, the Focus EV will offer superior energy efficiency than that of the Chevrolet Volt (on a mile-per-gallon equivalent) and “competitive” efficiency with other battery EVs including the Leaf.

The Focus EV’s permanent-magnet traction motor develops 123 hp (92 kW) and 181 lb•ft (246 N•m). With its electric powertrain pushing 3691-lb (1674-kg) of vehicle curb weight—about 750-lb (340-kg) more than the conventional Focus 5-door sedan— the Focus EV has a claimed top speed of 84 mph (136 km/h). To compensate for the additional mass, Ford engineers have recalibrated spring rates and shock valving, and added lightweight cast aluminum road wheels.

The EV model also gets a more aerodynamics front end, low-rolling-resistance tires, and energy-saving LED tail lamps.

Focus EV production will be ramped up in late 2011 for introduction initially in 19 U.S. metropolitan areas, with an anticipated 2012 European introduction still in development.

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