Ford plans two-pronged electrified strategy
Certified dealers to offer entire line
When the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid goes on sale in September, all the roughly 3,200 Ford brand dealers nationwide will be able to sell the gasoline-electric hybrid, which will hit 47 mpg highway and be priced starting at $25,995, including shipping, Ford Motor Co. says.
But in the first quarter of 2013, when the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid arrives, only a select number of Certified EV Dealers, as designated by Ford, will be allowed to sell it.
Ford's two-pronged distribution strategy for selling its electrified vehicles thus allows all dealers to offer two electrified vehicles: the Fusion Hybrid and the C-Max Hybrid. Those who want to offer the brand's entire electrified lineup, though, will need to meet the qualifications of Ford's Certified EV Dealer network.
Nationwide by year end
Earlier this year, Ford named 67 dealers in three states -- California, New York and New Jersey -- as part of its Certified EV Dealer network. The network will be expanded to 16 more states in the fall and to all states by the end of the year. The automaker has not said how many dealers it expects to sign up for certification.
Ford also has not publicly stated sales targets for its electrified vehicles yet. The carmaker is making its electrified vehicles on the same assembly lines as its standard gasoline-engine versions of the cars, allowing the company to be flexible in response to market demand.
To qualify as Certified EV Dealers, dealers had to go through a certification process that includes installing two 240-volt electric charging stations, training select employees to sell and service electric vehicles, and undergoing a Ford environmental audit to find ways to save costs and cut energy use in the dealership.
Certified EV Dealers initially will be able to sell three electrified vehicles other dealers can't sell: the Ford Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi, both plug-in hybrids, and the Focus Electric. Ford may have other electrified vehicles in the pipeline. The Focus Electric, which went on sale in late May, is certified by the EPA to hit the equivalent of 110 mpg. It is priced at $39,995, including shipping.
The Fusion Energi is expected in showrooms in the first quarter of 2013. Ford has not announced prices for the Energi plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max or Fusion.
Michael Mamic, general manager of Rancho Santa Margarita Ford in Santa Margarita, Calif., says he received two Focus Electrics a couple of weeks ago: one a demonstrator model Ford requires its Certified EV Dealers to keep on display and the second one a sale unit.
A natural market
Mamic believes his affluent Southern California area should be a natural market for electric cars, which is one reason he went for the certification. But he has seen little customer interest. He would like to see more advertising from Ford.
"They offered me four more electrics, and I said I don't want them. I'm not getting any buzz from customers asking about them," Mamic says.
On April 10, Ford launched an online reality show competition in conjunction with online media company Yahoo! designed to promote the Focus Electric.
"We've had a pretty extensive campaign thus far, considering. It's just focused on a couple of markets," a Ford spokesman says. The program, called Plugged In, launched with events in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; Raleigh, N.C.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington.
Chris Lemley, president of Sentry Auto Group in Medford, Mass., said he has yet to receive his first Focus Electric from the company. But Lemley has been able to order some C-Max Hybrid units. Ford opened the order bank a couple of weeks ago.
Lemley says he is pleased with the $25,995 price tag: "It's about $5,000 cheaper than an Escape Hybrid was."
The five-passenger C-Max, which will be sold only with hybrid powertrains, will give Lemley and all other Ford dealers a weapon to fight the Toyota Prius, the reigning champion of the hybrid market.
"I was happy they gave us some latitude to potentially" compete with the Prius, Lemley says. "I was concerned it was going to be more expensive."
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