Ford plugs into new segment with C-Max Energi
SAN FRANCISCO -- The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is Ford Motor Co.'s first plug-in hybrid. Ford hopes the C-Max Energi's price of $29,995, after a $3,750 federal tax credit but with shipping, and eye-popping fuel-economy numbers -- 100 mpg-e in combined city and highway driving -- will get the attention of customers who might have bought the Toyota Prius in the past or might be considering the Prius Plug-in hybrid now.
Ford wants customers to believe they don't have to sacrifice driving fun and affordability for economy and efficiency.
The Energi, which Ford began shipping to dealers a few weeks ago, is the second entry in Ford's hybrid-only C-Max nameplate. The C-Max Hybrid, which does not have a plug, went on sale in September.
The C-Max Energi is built on Ford's versatile Focus platform and is made in the same Michigan Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit where the Focus is produced. The same plant once made Ford Expeditions. These days Ford uses Michigan Assembly as a showcase for its transformation from producer of gas-guzzling SUVs to fuel-efficient vehicles such as the C-Max Energi. Ford will introduce a second plug-in hybrid, the Fusion Energi, in early 2013.
The basics: The C-Max Energi gets its power from a four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and an electric motor driven by a 7.6 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery. That compares with the C-Max Hybrid's 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery. The battery size makes a performance difference in several key ways. The Energi has a range of 620 miles, while the C-Max Hybrid will go 570 before a fill-up. The Energi will reach a top speed of 102 mph, and 85 mph in electric only, while the Hybrid can hit 115 mph but just 62 mph in electric only.
Drivers may choose among three buttons -- EV Now, EV Later or EV Auto -- to select when to use the Energi's electric-only capabilities.
Ford is offering the C-Max Energi in only one upper-range trim level: SEL.
Tooling around the hilly, twisty roads of Marin County during the media launch, the C-Max Energi was downright frisky and showed excellent nimbleness while racking up about 60 mpg over a 35-mile stretch, including some street driving in San Francisco.
Notable features: Drivers may monitor their driving efficiency via Ford's SmartGauge with EcoGuide, displayed on one of two 4.5-inch LED screens on either side of the speedometer. A blue graphic called Brake Coach shows how effectively drivers use the car's regenerative braking.
The MyFord Touch infotainment system is standard and the C-Max Energi gets the same hands-free liftgate Ford introduced with the 2013 Escape.
C-Max Energi buyers get a five-year subscription to use the MyFord Mobile App for smartphones. The app allows customers to monitor the charging status of their vehicle batteries remotely, warm up the interior in advance and locate charging stations.
Via an arrangement with retailer Best Buy, Ford is offering a charging station for $1,499. Ford expects about 40 percent of customers to buy a charging station, Mike Tinskey, Ford manager of vehicle electrification infrastructure, said at the media launch of the vehicle here. It takes 21/2 hours to charge from a 240-volt outlet or about 7 hours via a normal 120-volt outlet.
What Ford says: "From fuel efficiency to innovative technologies to the performance and price, everything we've done for the last 20 years in the area of hybrid vehicle technology has led up to this," said John Davis, chief nameplate engineer for the C-Max Energi.
Shortcomings and compromises: The C-Max Energi's battery is under the rear cargo compartment, but its additional bulk brings the floor substantially higher than the C-Max Hybrid's. With the rear seats folded up, that means the Energi has 19.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second row, compared with 24.5 cubic feet for the Hybrid. The larger battery also makes the C-Max Energi weigh 259 pounds more than its stablemate.
The market: Ford believes the market for plug-ins is growing. "Hybrid interest is up 23 percent over the prior year," said C.J. O'Donnell, Ford's electric vehicle marketing manager. Ford's research shows one of every four hybrid-intenders is considering a plug-in.
"That's new news to us," he said. Ford expects one of four C-Maxes sold will be an Energi. Those customers tend to be university educated, many with graduate degrees, and to spend a lot of time and energy researching their vehicle purchase.
The skinny: The C-Max Energi combines ultrahigh fuel economy with affordability, Focus-bred driving characteristics and a dose of practicality to give buyers a new reason to take a closer look at plug-ins.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.