CES: All eyes on Ford's electric Focus

CEO Alan Mulally's keynote brought onstage a new all-electric Focus, which the company says will charge twice as fast as its competition.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
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Ford CEO Alan Mulally introduces the Ford Focus Electric. James Martin/CNET

Ford CEO Alan Mulally introduced the automaker's first-ever zero-emissions vehicle Friday in his keynote address at the 2011 CES convention in Las Vegas: The Focus Electric, a new version of the little sedan which Ford says offers better mileage than the Chevy Volt and charges twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf.

"This is our first ever gas-free, zero carbon dioxide emissions car," Mulally said. "(It's) a great step forward in electrification, and part of an even more comprehensive plan for bringing affordable fuel efficiency technology to millions of people around our world."

It was Mulally's third consecutive time giving a keynote talk at the CES trade show; this time, there was huge applause when Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO, announcing Mulally, mentioned the fact that Ford had made it through the recent economic crisis without a government bailout.

The Focus Electric will launch later this year and is considered to be the flagship vehicle in a collection of electrified Ford cars that the company says will number five by 2012. The car has a top speed of 84 miles per hour, but Ford did not disclose the range that it can drive before needing a recharge.

Focus vehicles for the U.S. market will be assembled in Ford's Michigan plant, "production powered in part by one of the largest solar energy generator systems in the state" according to a release.

Ford executives hyped up the car's "holistic vehicle ownership experience," as Sherif Marakby, director of Ford's electrification programs and engineering, called it: an improved version of Ford's MyFord Touch console, with specialized SmartGauge display technology to help car owners drive more efficiently and see a "range view" to determine how far they are from a charging station; "value charging," a new partnership with Microsoft to calculate the most cost-efficient charging options by taking advantage of off-peak and discounted utility rates; and MyFord Mobile, a new mobile app that lets Focus Electric owners find charging stations (through a partnership with the AOL-owned MapQuest), determine the best charging times, unlock the car doors, and even post electric-driving achievements to social-networking sites.

Ford says that it is working with utility companies to work on handling the demand that plug-in vehicles will place on the electrical grid, and that for customer convenience it expects that the number of public charging systems in US will rise from 1,800 (mostly in California) to 12,000. At-home charging stations will be serviced through a partnership with Best Buy's Geek Squad.

More of Ford's green auto plans will be revealed later this month at the North American Auto Show, said Ford head of global product development Derrick Kuzak when he joined Mulally onstage in the keynote address. "But the new Focus just felt more at home at CES," he said.