Charge your car by phone
New features give hybrids more appeal, writes Paul Pottinger
AMOBILE phone application that activates and monitors electric-vehicle charging and a portable charger for the home are Ford’s newest gambits in its bid to become a major maker of alternative energy vehicles by 2020.
Ford manager of vehicle electrification Chris Pick says that though hybrids will by far remain the Blue Oval’s primary non-conventional vehicle, cars with alternative energy powertrains of all types could make up as much as 25 per cent of the company’s overall production by the end of the decade.
Speaking at Ford’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Pick says the technological challenge of improving plug-in-hybrids (as opposed to full hybrids such as Toyota’s Prius) and EVs remains formidable.
But, he says, a greater challenge is curing the buying public of ‘‘ range anxiety’’, so the company is concentrating on making them as comfortably ‘‘familiar’’ as possible.
‘‘The electric version of the Focus (showcased at the Detroit Motor Show) is simply an electric version of a mainstream vehicle,’’ Pick says.
‘‘You get all you get in the new Focus with the benefit of an electric drivetrain. It is not a project car or a demo vehicle.’’
Pick says Ford’s new EV charger is a portable domestic appliance that ‘‘replaces petrol miles with electric miles’’, one that he claims charges faster than that of the rival Nissan Leaf and provides greater range than the Chevrolet Volt. It will also, he says, be about $500 cheaper in the US — $US1500.
The downloadable phone app, called My Ford Mobile, is free to users for the first five years.
While this and the home charging kit are the sexy features of Ford’s electrification program, Pick says EVs will comprise only 5 per cent of the 25 per cent of vehicles that will make up Ford’s alternative power source program.
Cars with more familiar hybrid powertrains, such as the Fusion and the new C-MAX, will make for about 70 per cent this segment.
Hybrids capable of running for distances solely on plug-in rechargeable batteries will comprise the rest.
Pick says Ford is already the biggest maker of ‘‘full hybrids’’ next to Toyota.
‘‘We don’t want to force this on customers,’’ Pick says. ‘‘We want to provide more options for those ready to move from conventionally powered cars.
‘‘Just as one size of vehicle doesn’t fit all buyers, we’re going to provide them with options. We are in the early stages of electrification, so this will be somewhat premium priced.’’
As to how the range of EVs could be extended beyond the 140-odd km now possible, Pick says this will be driven by early-adopters.
‘‘We won’t really know until they use their vehicles over extended periods and we know what their needs are.
‘‘We don’t know whether we should install a bigger battery, because battery technology will become more sophisticated.’’
Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead McAlary says the new wave of hybrids and EVs will first roll out in North America, then Europe, with Asia-Pacific to follow some time later.
‘‘It’s definitely on the agenda, but there’s no timeframe as yet,’’ she says.
More options: Ford’s C-MAX concept car, unveiled in Detroit last month, has a hybrid powertrain.