Navigant Research Blog

Tortoise-Like, Ford Joins the Plug-In EV Race

Scott Shepard — August 2, 2012

Toyota’s persistence with the Prius has paid off handily for the company.  The model line has dominated the hybrid market since hybrid light-duty vehicles were first commercialized, and has cemented Toyota’s title as the premier maker of fuel efficient automobiles.  Despite the best efforts of GM, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Honda to capitalize on the next wave of fuel efficiency with plug-in vehicles, the Prius is having its best year, ever becoming the third best-selling car globally, thanks to four new models in the series including a plug in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) with an 11-mile all-electric range and a $32,000 MSRP.

Of the major auto OEMs, Ford has seemed somewhat apathetic to Toyota’s predominance, as it has never debuted an advanced hybrid or plug-in model with the marketing hype of its competitors.  Ford was the first Detroit automaker to offer a hybrid domestically and internationally, though, and its 2013 line-up of plug in vehicles for the U.S. market is arguably the most impressive of any major automaker’s.  Headlines are generally reserved for the automakers first to market with plug in vehicles, i.e., Chevrolet and Nissan.  Ford seems to be quite content with its slow but steady role, and the strategy may well pay off.

Ford’s 2013 lineup for passenger vehicles includes the all-electric Focus, the plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi, and updated versions of both its hybrid models, the Fusion and the C-MAX.   None of these models are “new” – they’re simply updated versions of models that have been successful for the company.  The only thing new about this line-up is that the C-MAX, which has been available in Europe since 2003, will be available to the North American market.  And the C-MAX is the key.

While the all-electric Focus was the company’s first foray into plug-in market, the company has only sold 89 in the last two months.  Ford, however, seems to be more enthusiastic about the C-MAX Energi, which is entering a plug-in hybrid market that is meeting, if not exceeding, expectations for Chevrolet and Toyota.

The C-MAX Energi can hardly be described as flashy, but it should have an impact on the market.  The vehicle’s starting price ($32,950) is slightly higher than the Prius Plug-In ($32,000), but significantly lower than the Volt ($39,145).  Its all-electric range (20) is almost twice the Prius (11) and half the Volt (38), and it not only matches the Prius MPG equivalent rating of 95 miles, but also has the longest combined range at 550 miles.

Though Ford’s entry to the plug in market comes relatively late, the company’s hesitation has served it well, limiting its risk by avoiding a big, Leaf-like gamble.  Ford has followed Toyota’s approach to plug-ins, outfitting old models with the new technology in order to reduce costs, and now the company is finally set to compete against the Japanese auto giant stateside.  The C-MAX Energi is the third plug-in hybrid to hit the market for the general public, and it gives Ford the opportunity to accelerate down the road that Chevrolet and Toyota paved.

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