Cleantech Market Intelligence
With C-Max Energi, Ford Aims for Prius-Level Success
Ford executives who have watched Toyota sell hybrids by the boatload clearly put their Prius-envy to work when designing the C-Max Energi. At a press event on November 13, Ford took every opportunity to compare its newly launched plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with Toyota’s hot-selling plug-in hybrid, the Prius.
Though it may look larger from the outside, the C-Max Energi is comparable in size to the Prius – a few inches taller and wider, but a few inches shorter and with slightly less cargo space. It also has higher MPG, a longer total driving distance, and nearly double the all-electric range (21 miles).
Ford executives emphasized that the C-Max Energi, at $29,995, costs less after the federal tax credit than both the Chevrolet Volt, which has been leading all PHEVs in monthly sales in the United States, and the Prius PHEV. They added that after the California rebate, the C-Max Energi only costs $1,000 more than a C-Max Hybrid with the similar package and trim level.
If my experience during an 80 mile test drive through San Francisco and lovely Marin County is any indication, the C-Max Energi’s performance will attract many customers who put driving pleasure high on their priority list. It feels much more substantial and peppier than the smaller plug-in vehicles I’ve driven, and while it’s not quite a Tesla Roadster, it’s a comparable driving experience to the Volt. The car has three settings for the amount of battery power provided: auto (the car decides what is best), EV Now, and EV Later. The EV Now mode may not be available depending on how full the battery is. During my test drive, I achieved 73.6 MPG despite going up and down a number of hills, which is remarkable for a vehicle of this size.
Ford is hoping to control its vehicle production cost by using the same hybrid equipment on both the Energi and the hybrid C-Max, with the exception of the much larger battery pack in the plug-in model. Ford says the company expects to sell around 3 times as many hybrids as Energis, and that the company is tripling its overall production of hybrid and plug-in vehicles for 2013.
Ford is continuing to work with Microsoft and utilities to enable consumers to “value charge” their vehicles by specifying only charging the battery pack when electricity rates are lower. Ford’s Mike Tinskey said that the company has pricing data from more than 800 of the largest utilities, which represents 80 percent of the U.S. population. While utility “time of use” pricing may change the behaviors of owners of Ford’s Focus battery electric vehicle, which has enough battery to meet drivers’ daily needs and can be fully charged overnight, Energi drivers will likely want to keep the batteries topped off whenever possible to avoid paying for gas. Utilities face a significant challenge because as long as the cost of driving electric is cheaper than gasoline (it can be 25 percent of the cost or less), drivers will plug-in whenever they can if they plan on using the car during the day.
Ford’s decision to develop its hybrid, PHEV and BEV platforms simultaneously will likely garner the company the largest share of plug-in electric vehicle sales in the U.S. starting in 2014, according to Pike Research’s 2012 Plug-In Electric Vehicle Report.