You’d expect Ford - a car company based in Detroit - to launch an important new car at its hometown motor show, wouldn’t you? Yet rather than unveil its new Focus Electric at the Detroit Auto Show that’s taking place right now, Ford launched the car at CES. If you’re looking for an example of just how important the electronics and tech industry is becoming for car companies, look no further.
The good news is that the battery powered "Focus Electric" (wonder how long it took them to come up with that name) looks just like a regular car. In fact, the only differences between it and the new petrol or diesel-powered Focus which arrives later this year, are some new wheels and a different front grill design. We even reckon it looks better than the regular car - the shape of that grill bears an uncanny similarity to certain Aston Martin products, which can never be a bad thing, can it?
But how far can you expect the Focus Electric to go on one charge? Ford wouldn’t confirm official stats at CES, but talking to its execs privately at the Detroit Motor Show, we’re confident it’ll beat the Nissan Leaf’s range of around 100-miles-per-charge, just.
The downside is that the top speed’s going to be limited to 84mph - so don’t plan on taking your Focus Electric near a German Autobahn, anytime soon. Conscious that the range and battery charge times are going to be the big sticking points in the success of electric cars, Ford’s been working hard to overcome these problems by employing a host of technological innovations.
Firstly, the liquid-cooled battery technology has been designed to charge from empty to full in just over 3 hours - that’s around twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt with which the Focus will compete. But of more interest to us is the design of the interface and the announcement of a phone app specifically for the car, which lets you start charging the car remotely, unlock the doors, start it up, plan journeys and see if you’ve enough battery charge level via your iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone.
The interior gets Ford’s Microsoft-powered "Sync" connectivity package, which features "MyFord Touch" - a system that wraps radio, navigation, USB devices and the climate controls into one touch sensitive panel and central touchscreen. In the Focus Electric, this system is paired with an instrument panel that features two 4-inch TFTs either side of the speedometer.
The left TFT works in conjunction with the satnav to work out if you’ve enough range to reach the next plug-in charging point and represents this a little like a fuel gauge. Ford calls it "budget view". Get low on range and it’ll help you try to squeeze as much juice out of the battery as possible by recovering more energy under braking or suggesting you turn the air con off.
Meanwhile, the TFT to the right can display music, phone and navigation, but also has a display option called "surplus". Select this, and your instrument panel’s suddenly taken over by butterflies. It’s supposed to be a simple, at-a-glance graphical visualisation to show whether you’ve enough range to make it to your destination, according to Ford. Even if you see just one solitary butterfly on the screen, it means you can make it home. If you’ve a screen full of the things, you can forget your range worries.
When we asked “why butterflies?” the company told us that it represented its hope of creating a "butterfly effect", where people who drive or ride in a Focus Electric love it so much they tell their friends, and persuade them to buy one too, creating a "butterfly effect" of electric car buyers. At which point we had to ask them to pass the sick bucket.
Sickly Americanised marketing speak aside, we think it’s exciting and makes a lot of sense for Ford to use digital technology and connectivity to try and overcome the worries many people will have about driving an electric car.
The car launches at the end of the year, and the company has promised we can be some of the first to get behind the wheel. As soon as we do that, we’ll bring you a full review and let you know just how well all of this works in the real world.