Ford to offer Focus with green powertrain options

(December 28, 2010) Ford recently reopened its assembly plant in Wayne, Mich., (about the size of 22 football fields), to produce the new 2012 Ford Focus compact conventional model that will go on sale in early 2011. In addition, three electric versions of the Focus will be assembled at the plant — a battery-powered version (BEV) to begin selling in 2011, which will be joined by a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid/gasoline version to be introduced in 2012.

Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain at
J.D. Power and Associates, answers questions about the new Ford Focus program and provides insight about plans to offer three alternative powertrain choices.

Q: Ford will build three alternative powertrain versions of the new Focus at a Michigan plant that has been retooled after producing SUVs. Do you see the different powertrains appealing in different markets?

A: Different powertrains do appeal to different markets. Hybrids account for less than 2.5% of light-vehicle sales, so they are not quite mainstream vehicles yet. Electric vehicles will have an even smaller share of the market, and will appeal mainly to city dwellers who don’t take many long trips. The typical hybrid and electric vehicle buyers are wealthier and better educated than the average car buyer. They are also more environmentally conscious, according to J.D. Power research. More mainstream buyers, however, are reluctant to spend the extra money up front for a hybrid or electric vehicle, even though it will save gas money. In many cases, the payback period is too long or the extra cost never pays for itself.

Q: Will one of these powertrains dominate in the US market?

A: Even though there has been a lot of talk about electric vehicles recently, gas-powered cars and trucks will still dominate the US market for at least the next 10 years. It is still the cheapest powertrain and provides the best value for the average consumer. Gasoline-powered vehicles are getting more efficient every year, which makes many car buyers reluctant to switch to a hybrid, plug-in or electric vehicle.

Q: Will Ford also develop an extended-range EV (like the Volt)?

A: Ford does not have plans to develop a car like the Chevrolet Volt. Ford will produce a battery electric version of the Focus in 2011 and the plug-in hybrid version of the Escape in 2012.

Q: Will these Focus EV versions be sold outside the US as exports, or will they be produced locally by region?

A: Ford is likely to sell the Focus EV in Europe and Asia in the next couple of years. The main markets outside of the US will be China and the Big Five European markets (the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy).

Q: The retooled plant in Michigan is said to be flexible, high tech and green, according to a Ford manufacturing executive. Can you comment?

A: Ford is committed to green manufacturing. The idea is to produce vehicles with as little harm to the environment as possible, and Bill Ford Jr. took the lead in this effort. A solar panel system will be used to generate renewable energy, and an environmentally friendly painting process is used. The Michigan assembly plant will also use energy-efficient lighting.