Ford designs C-Max Hybrid to be fun to drive, practical
LOS ANGELES -- The basic idea behind the marketing plan for the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is pretty simple: Ford Motor Co. wants customers to believe that a hybrid can be practical and fun, and that they can afford it. With this new entry, Ford is taking dead aim at the undisputed ruler of the hybrid realm, the Toyota Prius.
Ford introduced the C-Max Hybrid to journalists late last month in Los Angeles.
The basics: C-Max is not a new name. Ford introduced the C-Max brand in Europe in 2003 as its entry in Europe's compact minivan segment. But the European C-Max has been powered by conventional diesel and gasoline engines.
For the United States, the C-Max will be Ford's hybrid-only brand sold only in two versions: the C-Max Hybrid, a gasoline-electric hybrid coming late this month, and the C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid due in late November or early December.
The C-Max Hybrid, built on the same platform as the Focus, is a compact hatchback with a tall roof and an entry price of $25,995, including shipping.
It shares many features with the 2013 Escape. The instrument panel is virtually identical. Ford was so confident in the C-Max's capabilities that it dropped the Escape Hybrid for 2013.
The C-Max Hybrid is powered by a four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and an electric traction motor. It is EPA-certified at 47 mpg city and 47 mpg highway. The matching numbers are unusual for hybrids, which tend to get better mileage in city driving. The C-Max Hybrid can hit 62 mph in electric-only mode, made possible by a new lithium ion battery developed by Ford and made in Detroit. The C-Max Hybrid can go 570 miles between fuel stops.
Ford worked to bring the same driving characteristics to the C-Max that it built into the Focus and the Escape.
"We spent a lot on the suspension, trying to get low rolling resistance but with great ride and handling," says Julie Roehner, vehicle engineering manager. The car comes with Michelin Energy Saver A/S low rolling resistance tires on 17-inch wheels. The C-Max Hybrid has an independent rear suspension, Roll Stability Control, Curve Control and electric-power assisted steering -- some of the same systems Ford has used to make its nonhybrid cars more fun to drive. The C-Max Hybrid comes in two trim levels: SE and SEL.
Ford is positioning the C-Max between the Toyota Prius and the Prius V hatchback in price and fuel economy.
The C-Max Hybrid’s instrument panel, shown, is virtually identical to that of the 2013 Escape. The two vehicles share many features.
Notable features: The C-Max Hybrid comes with Ford's SmartGauge display so drivers can monitor fuel efficiency in a variety of ways, along with the latest version of the MyFord Touch infotainment system and Sync voice control. Ford is offering the hands-free liftgate that it introduced on the 2013 Escape, along with active park assist.
What Ford says: "The C-Max Hybrid is a great symbol of how Ford has transformed into a fuel economy and technology leader with 47 mpg across the board and a highway rating 7 mpg better than Toyota Prius V," says Joe Bakaj, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering.
Shortcomings and compromises: C-Max is a new name, and it could take Ford some time to familiarize customers with its new hybrid-only brand. Some dealers were disappointed and puzzled by Ford's decision to drop its popular Escape Hybrid in favor of the C-Max. The C-Max Hybrid is available only in front-wheel drive.
The market: Though sales of hybrid and electric vehicles rose by nearly a third through the first seven months of 2012, their share of the total industry is still just 3.2 percent. Ford says its internal research indicates customers reject hybrids for several reasons: they're perceived as pricey, pokey, boring to drive and not good value. Ford says it has answered those concerns by making a hybrid that functions much like a regular car. "You've got to make hybrids more mainstream to get beyond that 3 percent," says Michael O'Brien, Ford's electrification marketing manager.
The skinny: With its combination of high mpg, price, crossover-style practicality and zippy performance, the C-Max should give the Prius a run for its money among shoppers in search of fuel economy.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.