Focus Electric Only a CA ZEV Compliance Play?

2 years ago by Marc Lee 14

John Voelcker over at GreenCarReports is suggesting in this post that the following cars are compliance only cars:

Chevrolet Spark EV

Fiat 500 Elettrica

Ford Focus Electric

Honda Fit EV

Toyota RAV4 EV

Here are his criteria for a compliance car versus a real car:

We’d suggest that any plug-in car has to meet the following criteria before it can be considered real:

It’s sold outright to consumers, not only leased; and

It will sell at least 5,000 or more a year in the U.S. or reach total global sales of 20,000; and

It’s offered outside the ‘California emissions’ states, or will be within 18 months

Any car that doesn’t meet those tests at a minimum isn’t a serious volume car; it’s either part of a test fleet or it exists just to comply with the ZEV requirement.

Speaking specifically about the Ford Focus Electric Voelcker writes:

But the company’s absolute refusal to answer the kinds of questions normally discussed at a new car launch–rollout plan, lease versus purchase, production targets–combine with some worrisome statements by company executives to make us think Ford is only minimally committed to battery electric vehicles.

Our verdict: Until proven otherwise, the Focus Electric is a compliance car that will nonetheless be heavily touted by Ford whenever it needs to buff up its green credentials.

John has his hand on the pulse of the EV world so his assertions warrant strong consideration.  On the first four vehicles he lists there can be no debate, the statements from the manufacturers make it pretty clear those are compliance/test vehicles.  On the Focus Electric I disagree.

Rollout Plan.  Ford isn’t giving numbers and who can blame them after the way Nissan and GM were chopped up for coming in just shy of their goals for first year sales.   Also, EV acceptance at this point is clearly tied to gas prices.  If the world economy tanks again, and gas goes down.  All EV bets are off.  That said, Ford clearly has a national rollout plan as detailed by this map:

 

The FFE can be bought outright so there is another contra indication of a compliance vehicle.

The “worrisome statements” by company executives are presumably the statements by Mulally and others at Ford that even if they sold less than 5000 FFEs in the first year they would still consider that a success.

Going slow the first year on a car with a completely revolutionary power train system makes good sense, if for no other reason than the level scrutiny on these cars has been through the roof. Thus getting it right, or at the very least only having limited numbers in the wild with a problem is part of the driver for low first year numbers. Ford, like GM is no doubt doing full on QC on every one of the early vehicles coming off the line.

Ford was right to recognize that in Magna they had an extremely competent component manufacturer who had already done the work to develop a sound electric drive system.

Ford’s “power of choice” reasoning isn’t just marketing gimmickry. They truly believe a standardized chassis with several power train options is good business. I tend to agree, if they can pull it off, the cost advantage of their method would be substantial.  It is no wonder GM decided to try the same with the Chevy Spark.

As EV components and batteries get better and smaller it is not hard to imagine that Ford can produce vehicles with no intrusions in passenger/cargo space. Ford’s production model is different and requires some learning. Ford is in that learning process as we speak.

The only indication that fits John’s own criteria is the requirement of greater than 5000 units per year. Clearly Ford does not intend to beat that in year one, for all the reasons covered above. However, if acceptance and feedback on those early units is good, and demand is there, every indication from Ford is that they would be just as happy to put electric drive trains in the Focus as they would be to put gas engines in there.

Finally I submit exhibit A:

 

Come on John everyone knows CEOs don’t kiss compliance cars. 

 

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14 responses to "Focus Electric Only a CA ZEV Compliance Play?"

  1. Marc Lee says:

    Want to add that I am glad John put that article up. People may not be aware that some cars are just being put out to me the CARB requirements. In the end John and I are both speculating on whether the FFE is or is not a compliance car. Part of me thinks John’s article was an attempt to get Ford to speak out on where they stand with the FFE.

    Let me also add that although Ford’s marketing of the FFE has been low cost and non-existent on TV,it has not been haphazard. If successful it will be a case study for how to use social media to sell on the cheap.

  2. Chris says:

    “They truly believe a standardized chassis with several power train options is good business. I tend to agree, if they can pull it off, the cost advantage of their method would be substantial.”
    If that were true, then why would they price it as the single most expensive mass market EV in existence?

    Ford is hedging their bets. If EV’s take off, they’re not dead last in the race. If EV’s flounder, then Ford hasn’t bet the farm on another $1B EV-1 debacle. The problem is that the early adopter market doesn’t reward you for dipping your toes in timidly. Steel frame? Batteries crammed into nooks instead of under floorboards? Electronics module intruding into the cargo space? 77 miles range, almost identical to your competition? $4K price premium? 3600 pound curb weight!? They’re kidding, right? Anyone willing to spend $50K on a car is going to buy a Tesla S, or a BMW i3, or a couple of Leaf’s. At the price their selling this thing, it’s clearly in the “no compromise” demographic – except that the whole car is a series of compromises.

  3. Marc Lee says:

    “If that were true, then why would they price it as the single most expensive mass market EV in existence?”

    > 90% of the Leafs sold in the US are the SL model, which according to Edmund’s True Market Value sells on average for $38,755.

    http://www.edmunds.com/nissan/leaf/2012/options.html?sub=hatchback&style=101397755&trim=sl

    Perhaps Edmund’s is not on the money just yet, but it is in the ball park. Thus I would argue the FFE sells at about $2k premium maybe less. That gets you double the recharge rate. I would pay 2k more just for that feature, based on my charging needs. Also, throw in liquid heating and cooling for battery/motor. Significantly better phone/tech integration.

    The Leaf looks fine to me, but some have likened it to looking rather like a Space Frog. Suffice to say, I prefer the looks of the FFE. And then there is the American factor. We almost lost our auto industry in 2008. I be of the opinion that we MUST have US based manufacturers who build cars. Mind you I would not buy an inferior or overpriced vehicle to support that, but all things being equal…

    If the Tesla S really was $50k I would probably have jumped on it. Alas, the $50k version is at least 2 years off, if it ever comes.

  4. @Marc: Thanks for the article and the good words. A couple of points about your most recent comment:

    The 2013 Leaf will be (a) built in Tennessee; (b) use US-fabricated Li-ion cells; (c) come with a 6.6-kW charger; and (d) possibly cost less (though that may not happen until 2014 or 2015). How would that change your FFE vs. Leaf comparo?

    Most of the early EV buyers are NOT buying to save money, though that’s a nice byproduct. They’re buying to make a point. The FFE is impossible to distinguish from a regular Focus except for the geekiest of geeks. Is that a pro or a con?

    Finally, let’s all agree to quote prices BEFORE incentives, no matter how deceptive Tesla tries to be. The “$50K” Model S is a $57,400 car. If we’re quoting transaction prices on Leaf, there is no reason not to do the same for Tesla. And, as you note, that “160-mile” model starting at $57,400 will be the last variant to go into production, probably sometime in 2013 (assuming Tesla gets the Model S into production by the end of summer, which remains to be seen).

  5. Jay Cole says:

    I see only one way this disagreement can be solved…

    /batfight

    null

    “Generally good natured, you’ll have a good time,
    Only in rare occasions does it get out of hand,
    …a game of honor and diplomacy”

  6. Lyle Dennis says:

    Thanks for stopping by John

    I appreciate your report.

    I actually cynically believe all EVs including the Volt are compliance cars in that they are meant to bring up fleet avg MPGs to meet future federal requirements.

    Seems like all the automakers came to the plate kicking and screaming.

    They are also unsure about sales, which seeing how its going so far, isn’t such a bad idea.

    I hope demand grows and eventually EVs take over – in for the long road.

  7. Jay Cole says:

    In all seriousness, I agree with Lyle on this one pretty much. Almost everybody I think got started out with a little fear of getting ‘ahead of’ the compliance curve. They all ended up at various stages of adoption, but the initial momentum was a little bit of a knee jerk.
    .
    The only exception is Mitsu I believe (50/50 on Nissan’s intentions because they are all-in). Mitsu seemed to be the only one who really just wanted to produce an electric car for the sake of doing it…there really wasn’t any pressue (or anyone else even considering it) when they started working R&D on it in 2006.
    .
    Well, that and Mitsu really doesn’t give a fig about their US component at all, and I think that showed in the glacial rollout plan in the US considering the car is going on 3 years on the market now this July, lol.

  8. Marc Lee says:

    “The 2013 Leaf will be (a) built in Tennessee”
    I have nothing but fond thoughts for the good folks of Smyrna TN. My first “car” a 92 Nissan P/U came from there, and despite the wife’s many attempts to have me sell it, it still darkens the driveway.

    “(b) use US-fabricated Li-ion cells”
    Granted “Made in the USA” is more convoluted these days, with parts sourced from all over the globe. I’m no Xenophobe, but feel we must have a US based manufacturer(s) of cars.

    (c) come with a 6.6-kW charger; and (d) possibly cost less
    Yes it remains to be seen about cost. If memory serves the 6.6 will be an “option.”

    “How would that change your FFE vs. Leaf comparo? ” Will have to see what the apples and oranges look like when that time comes. Really these are exciting times.

    “let’s all agree to quote prices BEFORE incentives” Yup, unless they can implement the rebate at the dealer idea, should be quoted BEFORE incentives.

    @Jay: As an active softball player batting in the high 600s I can tell you without hesitation that I would beat John like a Christmas morning drum in any “bat fight.”

  9. Marc Lee says:

    “I actually cynically believe all EVs including the Volt are compliance cars in that they are meant to bring up fleet avg MPGs to meet future federal requirements.

    Seems like all the automakers came to the plate kicking and screaming.”

    Interesting to hear you say that. Found myself thinking that the US auto makers are finally realizing that they can’t just play in the US pond. They need to really compete globally which means building fuel efficient cars. Having $8/gallon gas prices would not be palatable, but setting high fuel efficiency standards helps align domestic production goals with global ones.

  10. @Jay: Really not fair to call the launch of the U.S.-spec Mitsubishi i “glacial”. I’m told the company had to spend roughly $150 million to make the Japanese kei-car i-MiEV into a vehicle that meets all U.S. safety standards, which are by far the world’s toughest.

    (One example: No other place on earth requires airbags to protect *unbelted* passengers; everywhere else, airbags are designed on the assumption that passengers are belted in. Protecting larger, heavier U.S. occupants who may be unbelted changes the whole equation.)

    As a result, the U.S.-spec Mitsu ‘i’ is a very different vehicle structurally and equipment-wise even though it only seems to have some sill and fender flares. Whether it was smart for Mitsu to spend that much on a tiny niche vehicle, given its tenuous long-term U.S. market position, is a different question. I quite like the little ‘i’, but I’m a small-car guy.

  11. statik says:

    John:

    I hear you on the added cost to put a car on US roads over just about any other country. No argument there.
    .
    However, I’m sticking with the ‘glacial’ rollout comment, heeh. US safety standards weren’t a mystery to them anymore than it was to Nissan, GM, or any other oem when they were designing and builting out the i-MiEV, so that doesn’t give them as pass on why the car they were first to actually build, and then first to announce deliveries for the US (said 2010) is only now drifting into the country.
    .

    .
    Sidenote: I have also have had a soft spot for the i-MiEV. I always said I would buy the first electric car with 4 seats that I could get serviced locally, and for a year and a half I was almost positive that car would be the i-MiEV.

    PS) I enjoy your writing John, I always make an effort to read your work

  12. JEC says:

    Nice site!

    Good to see some ole GM-Volt boys still hanging around.

  13. Mitsubishi never had any intention of making the original kei-class gasoline ‘i’ to be a U.S. market car. It’s tiny, and built to fit within the length, width, height, power, and displacement limits of that peculiarly Japanese segment.

    After its 2006 launch (back in the Daimler-Mitsu-Chrysler-Hyundai tieup days), it was then retrofitted into the i-MiEV … and THEN into the U.S. market car. It’s likely more expensive to retrofit a non-U.S. car to meet U.S. standards than to do it upfront, as Ford/Mazda learned with the Fiesta/Mazda2 they retrofitted halfway through that model’s life.

    Just a bit of background …

  14. Jay Cole says:

    …I love reminiscing, back when almost no one had even driven an electric car, outside of a few jaunts in a EV-1
    .

    .
    My first experience with the i-MiEV was at the Cobo Center for the 2009 NAIAS, there was some kind of ECO-track-something days, and Mitsu were offering test drives. As I recall you only got like a couple short laps and only at a snail’s pace, lol.
    .
    This was probably where my perception of their speed (or lack thereof) to market came from. The reps (who tagged along in the backseat) were telling everyone that the car was coming to the US, likely in early 2010…and they also pumped the fact they had a wider track/LHD version on the way to comply with European and US standards that would be shown in Geneva in a couple months. I guess I just held the early propaganda a little to close to my heart. I really wanted a EV to call my own back then.