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Ford readies mix of all-electric and plug-in hybrids

In its electric-vehicle strategy, Ford is betting on both an all-electric compact sedan about the size of a Focus and a plug-in version of its existing hybrids.

Amid questions over the viability of General Motors and Chrysler, Ford will detail its fuel-efficient car strategy and show off an all-electric Focus and hybrid Fusion sedan on Wednesday.

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Company executives are scheduled to demonstrate the cars and update its "sustainable mobility technology" plans at the New York International Auto Show. The company says it is on track to bring both all-electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles using a new generation of lithium ion batteries to market starting next year.

The company already offers hybrid vehicles that use a combination of a gasoline engine and a battery, charged by regenerative braking. Next year, it will release an all-electric commercial Transit Connect van, which is expected to have a range of 100 miles and top speed of 70 miles per hour.

Ford is also working with auto supplier Magna International to release an all-electric compact sedan in 2011, which will get about 70 percent better mileage than non-hybrid models. This car will be a Focus-size vehicle that will go 100 miles on a charge, said Greg Frenette, the assistant chief engineer of battery electric-vehicle applications at Ford.

Then in 2012, Ford expects to release a plug-in version of one of its current hybrid vehicles. The anticipated mileage will be about 120 miles per gallon for the first 30 miles and then the vehicle will get the mileage of a traditional hybrid--in the 40 miles per gallon range, Frenette said.

Ford expects to price the electric and plug-in hybrid cars with a slight premium, comparable to what consumers pay for hybrids today, he said.

At the 2009 Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, Ford showed its Tourneo Connect battery electric vehicle concept vehicle. The technology will be applied to passenger cars. Ford Motor

"As we put these out into showrooms, they have to be fully competitive with other vehicles," Frenette said. "Also, I suspect that a number of incentives can be applied toward (purchase) so that the net cost to the customer should be something affordable."

The key to bringing down the cost of these vehicles is higher volume of battery manufacturing, he said. Because they have larger batteries, all-electric cars--which Ford refers to as battery electric-- will be tougher to bring down in cost.

"Range anxiety" overblown?
With a wave of electric vehicles aimed at mainstream buyers coming to market next year, Ford is placing its bets on both all-electrics and plug-in hybrids. Toyota, too, is working on both a small pure electric car and a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius hybrid due next year.

By contrast, General Motors is focusing much of its electric drivetrain development on a gas-electric combination slotted for use with the Chevy Volt and potentially other cars.

The obvious advantage of a gas-electric combination is a longer range since a person taking a long drive can refuel at a gas station.

But a raft of companies, including Nissan, Mitsubishi, and start-ups Tesla Motors, Detroit Electric, and Miles Electric, are developing pure electric cars, betting that a car with a roughly 100-mile range will appeal to consumers.

In Ford's case, it expects that its battery electric sedan will primarily fill the role of a household's second car in North America. The battery, supplied by Johnson Controls Saft, will be able to store about 20 kilowatt-hours, said Frenette.

"People will find in a course of week that using a battery-electric vehicle not only saves costs on the fuel bill, but it also makes a positive statement about their concern about the environment, the global warming issue, national energy security and the convenience of not going to a gas station," he said.

On a regular U.S. 110-volt outlet, a battery that size would require a 12-hour charge to replenish. Although it's not necessary, people could install a 220-volt outlet at home to cut charge time in half or plug in at public places, like malls or offices, Frenette said. He said ultimately, two-hour charges are possible and safe.

Unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford has not taken government aid. Fuel-efficient technologies and electric vehicles were a key part of the turnaround plan Ford presented to the U.S. government late last year.