Ford Focus Electric A Compliance Car? Ford Swears It's Not

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2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

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There are two kinds of electric cars on sale in the U.S. these days.

The first kind--the ones you should pay attention to--are the volume electric cars. Their makers want to sell as many as they can.

The second kind are the "compliance cars," built solely to meet California regulations that require six large automakers to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles by 2014.

And whether the Ford Focus Electric is a volume car or a compliance car is the topic of hot debate among electric-car advocates.

Now, Ford’s latest group marketing manager for electrification, C.J. O'Donnell has weighed in with the company's point of view: "It's not a compliance car."

But unlike other competitors that he says are "forcing the volume levels" for battery electric vehicles, O'Donnell suggests that Ford is content to be "very measured and [let] the market come to us.”

Instead, he says, Ford thinks that plug-in hybrids derived from its latest generation of hybrid cars--the 2013 Ford C-Max and 2013 Ford Fusion--will find more success in the U.S. market than the pure battery electric Ford Focus Electric.

O'Donnell notes that education will be required and that a market for plug-in vehicles has to "emerge over time."

"There will be a time when there is increased demand for these cars," he told Plug-In Cars, "as people understand how they fit into their lifestyles.”

As author Jim Motavalli notes in his interview of O'Donnell--who rotated into his slot just two months ago from the company's struggling luxury brand, Lincoln--"What else is Ford going to say at this point?"

The Ford Focus Electric today can be bought only from about 200 Ford dealers, located in California and other states--mostly those on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

2012 Ford Focus Electric

2012 Ford Focus Electric

Enlarge Photo

O'Donnell says the company will certify more than 700 additional dealerships to sell plug-in cars, and that eventually the Focus Electric will be available in all 50 states.

Whether the Focus Electric is a compliance car or something more, there's little debate about four other electric vehicles to be sold this year and next--which their makers will build only in volumes sufficient to meet California Air Resources Board rules for 2012 through 2014.

These compliance cars are the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500E, Honda Fit EV, and Toyota RAV4 EV.

What do you think? Is Ford being honest about its plans for plug-in cars, or is it only building the Focus Electric because it has to? How many do you think it will sell?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (26)
  1. Good timing, I just contacted three of my local Ford dealers by e-mail and am waiting to hear back on weather I can get a Focus Electric from them or not. I live in a warm climate and like the fact that the Focus has a liquid cooled battery. I'm tired of waiting to buy an electric car so if I get a no from Ford I'm just going to go out and get a Leaf.

  2. I think you nailed it. If you go to a dealership and drive out in an EV in two hours or less, it is not a compliance vehicle.

    If you can't find one for sale or the dealership gives you a hard time, it is a VEV (Vapor EV) or a compliance vehicle.

  3. I do know that there are some Focus Electrics at dealers in my state. But they only seem to be in a few of them.

  4. I have a yes, but not until the spring of next year and they are only expecting to have two or three per year shipped to them. Though I'm more interested in the Model S and the BMW i3 so by next spring my interest in the Focus Electric will most likely have evaporated.

  5. This is one of the things that really irritates me about Ford's web site. Since dealers have to make an investment in facilities, tools, and training to become certified to sell plug-in vehicles, you would think the least Ford would do is to highlight those dealers when you're searching for a FFV or one of the Energi models. But no.

    I just did a search (I live in MI). The system sent me to the inventory of ALL Foci, and I had to go dealer-by-dealer and sort highest price to lowest. I found one FFE at a local dealer 3 miles away, and another 20 miles away before I stopped looking.

  6. Go to Cars .com, I have found some in my state unfortunately the few dealers who have them are out of the Focus Electric's range.

  7. Spoke to a friend who runs a Ford dealership about if they would carry the ENERGI. He said it cost upwards of $20,000 to equip his Chevy dealership to work on Volts (requirement to be able to maintain the cars you sell). Anyway, he hasn't sold enough Volts to come close to paying for the investment & can't see making the similar investment at his Ford dealership.

  8. Some CA dealers sell 35 or more Volts per month...

    I guess your friend must live in a state where Volt isn't popular...

  9. "Compliance car" is a great term, but maybe it's time to come up with a proper definition for it, or every EV effort that seems rather tentative will be disparaged as "compliance car", even if the manufacturer -like Ford- has actually other and maybe very justifiable reasons not to go full throttle yet.

    The proper definition I think is already in this article: "build only in volumes sufficient to meet California Air Resources Board rules for 2012 through 2014", so more generally a car that's offered only in specific markets in the numbers needed to comply with the regulations that are in place in that market.

    Since the Focus is offered geographically and numerically beyond the scope of current regulations it is not a compliance car.

  10. Except that there are regulations other than CARB's that manufacturers need to comply with, such as the new CAFE standards. Even if we don't have specific regulations in mind such cars can still be called "compliance" as the manufacturer is trying to "comply" with an expected ecological image and technological relevance and claim that they too make a plug-in.

    The term "compliance" is relatively mild considering what else such vehicles (and their makers) can be called.

  11. I received an "ad" in the mail for the Ford Focus electric (because I signed up with them.)

    The tell you a lot about the car, but one thing they do not tell you, or even mention, is where to buy it. Now that really is "waiting for the market to come to us." If Ford wants the market to come to them, they really should give us a location to go to.

  12. I do find it interesting that Ford is pricing the Focus competitively. If they really didn't want to sell the thing, they would charge another $4000.

  13. hard to call it a compliance car when its available outside CA. the plugs Ford does offer cannot be ignored. the C-MAX and Fusion Energi's appear to be very exciting and viable options for those who wish to explore the world of EV driving

  14. @David: Actually, for the purposes of the current set of CARB regulations, a zero-emission vehicle sold in any state that has adopted California's stiffer emissions regulations (there are now 12 or 13, I believe) counts toward CARB ZEV compliance.

    So a more realistic version of your test might be "when it's available outside the 13 CARB-emissions states". FYI.

  15. When I was looking at a C-Max hybrid, I saw a Focus EV in the showroom of a Raleigh NC dealer. So buy the above definition the Focus EV is not a compliance car.

  16. @John, I enjoy your reporting, but I have never agreed with your good/evil split between what you consider "real" EV's and "compliance" EV's. My opinion is that as long as a manufacturer is supplying a quality EV and standing behind their product, then that effort will help move them forward into better EV's and broader application when the market is right. Manufacturers can learn a lot, even with lower-volume entries in limited markets.

    Of course those manfacturers who distribute more widely are learning more in terms of engineering, durability, customer useage patterns, climate effects, etc.

    Ford comments in next post.

  17. But at some point, the manufacturer is really just "holding back" product that people want. I would love a Focus EV and yet Ford seems to be "holding back". That does nothing to advance the cause of EVs.

    As to why Ford is "holding back"... well... this is a little like telling if someone is telling a "lie". To "lie" you have to intend to deceive someone, and that is tough to tell because you can't get in their heads. Since we can't get into Ford's "head," we have no way of telling if it is intended as a compliance car or not.

  18. Although I'm critical of Ford's rollout efforts on the FFE, Ford is not holding back and Ford is not "lying." Ford will distribute the FFE and Energi plug-ins in all 50 states and Canada and will produce to demand. The supply base is set up to build at least 20k annually; the assembly plant is flexible and can handle the volume. If there were demand from the dealers, the vehicles would be built.

    Ford's dealers are the primary issue IMO. Sure, Ford can apply pressure, but manufacturers don't have control over their dealerships. Perhaps Ford's education and marketing effort hasn't been strong enough to convince the dealers that there is a volume and profit opportunity. Hopefully Ford's new EV Marketing Director will sort things out.

  19. 1. Ford has supplier capacity to produce around 20k upa FFE's before breaking bottlenecks.
    2. Ford's launch has been slow; maybe due to signing up dealers who have to make the investment in training/facilities and are unsure about sales potential?
    3. Perhaps Mr. O'Donnell can better focus Ford's efforts, because the marketing launch also has been poor, including lack of information/advertising and outdated info on Ford's web site.
    4. The introduction of the C-Max and Fusion Energi might help. The dealer certification process is the same for all plug-ins, so dealers might see some critical mass and order some FFE's.
    5. Ford will build to demand; the plant is full on three shifts, so there is plenty of other volume to fill in.

  20. What is the theory behind the upcoming Chevrolet Spark EV being a compliance car or not? I have not yet heard GM discuss its sales/distribution strategy for that one. Perhaps they need to wait for clarity on the A123 situation first :)

  21. @Anton: A source at GM confirmed to me (confidentially) after my original article on compliance cars that the Spark EV is indeed a compliance car. The company's big push on plug-ins is the Volt and derivatives (e.g. Cadillac ELR).

  22. I think you can call any EVs a "compliance car" if the auto makers have NO intentions of trying to sell as many as they can (including great Leasing deals) beyond the minimum number required by CARB. Whether it is available outside of CA is irrevalent. B/c if it doesn't allocate enough cars outside CA, people would still have difficulties to buy it.

    So, if Ford requires every EV certified dealer to have at least 1 car in stock for demo (like Volt and Leaf) and have plenty of inventory available for sales, then it is a real EV. If it doesn't "push" for sales like (end of month/qtr dealer incentives), then it doesn't really care.

    Look at it this way, Ford is as invested into hybrids as Toyota is with Prius...

  23. We bought the Focus electric back in August, and love it. The primary driver puts on 70 miles per day on the same charge. We charge at night, and the FE is out all day and usually brought home with 15 miles left on the battery. The FE looks like a compliance car because of a lack of marketing on the part of Ford. We love driving gas free so much we are considering getting a Cmax Energi plug in when they come out to replace our hybrid.

  24. I regularly drive by a couple of Ford dealers here in the LA area, and they've had the same Focus EV's sitting on the lot for months and months on end. And I have yet to see one in the wild.

    I looked into getting one this past summer, and the lease rates were atrocious. The bad lease suggested a low commitment by Ford to establish itself in the EV market, suggesting that the Focus EV was for compliance.

    The recent lease deal is a step, but I still think it was more about moving metal than anything else... A lot of 2012's still languishing on dealer lots.

    By the way, nothing wrong with Ford going the compliance route. There's a government mandate that they are forced to meet. And they see greater business potential elsewhere.

  25. One thing to remember about the new Ford (the Mulally era) is that Ford hates to sell a car at a loss. It is no longer in their DNA, at least in their expressed DNA. So if Ford is not making enough money on the Focus EV, they will build it as a compliance car. If it makes a small profit, they will build as ordered. If it becomes a cash cow, they will put marketing dollars behind it, and build a boat load of them.

  26. I remember when we bought our first Prius. We went to our local dealer in August after completing online forms. Our dealer had a demo car and we were able to drive it. We placed our order and waited. We took delivery in December 2001.

    After owning 4 Prii, we started looking at EVs when Nissan announced the Leaf. We were tempted to put down the deposit required to hold a "place" for one, but we didn't.

    When Ford announced the Focus Electric we were very interested. We wanted to support a US company and I like how Alan Mullaly has transformed Ford. We looked at their website this summer and in August we noticed that local dealers had some in stock.

    Two weeks ago we went to a dealership and drove 1 of 5 that were in stock off of the lot.

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