Forgotten electric cars: the Ford Focus Electric | Top Gear
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Thursday 7th December

Forgotten electric cars: the Ford Focus Electric

As Ford announces its fully electric plan, here's one it made earlier

  • What is it?

    Ford’s answer to the Nissan Leaf – a third-generation Focus with a 23kWh battery (later upgraded to 33kWh) instead of a normal petrol or diesel engine. The five-door hatchback was launched in the US in 2011 and arrived in the UK in 2013, looking almost exactly like a regular Focus save for a more aerodynamic face.

    Built in the US (for the Americans) and Germany (for the Europeans), the Focus Electric remained on sale until 2018 (2017 in Europe). A few thousand found homes in North America, but over here? Just 61 were sold in all of Europe in 2016, and a quick check online suggests fewer than ten remain on the road in the UK.

    We're told a grand total of 24 were registered in the UK, all to Ford. While there were a few Ford dealers here geared-up to take orders for the Focus Electric, and the car was technically on sale to Joe Public, nobody actually bought one. 

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  • What kind of technology did it use?

    Early cars had a 23kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery that could be charged at a max rate of 6.6kW. Ford of Europe claimed the Electric was, therefore, good for around 100 miles of range, but North America’s EPA rated it at a more realistic 76 miles. For 2017 the battery was enlarged to 33.5kWh (with the option of CCS fast-charging up to 50kW). Ford claimed 140 miles of range, and the EPA 115.

    Like EVs available nowadays, the Focus Electric had regenerative braking that could supposedly capture 95 per cent of lost energy and could communicate with a special ‘MyFord Mobile’ app, which let owners set charging times and pre-heat/cool the car.

  • Was it fast?

    No, but it wasn’t unreasonably slow either. About the same as an electric Skoda Citigo, VW Up or Seat Mii. The Focus Electric’s 107kW (that’s 143bhp), 184lb ft electric motor propelled the weighty, front-wheel drive five-door hatchback to 62mph in 11.7 seconds – similar to a contemporary diesel-powered Focus. Its top speed was 84mph and, though it weighed almost half a tonne more than a diesel Focus, road tests claim it drove reasonably well. 

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  • Was it cheap?

    Also no, which was part of the problem. When it was launched in the UK in 2013, the Ford Focus Electric cost £28,500 after the Government’s plug-in car grant (which, back then, was a whopping £5,000). That was twice the price of the cheapest petrol-powered Focus.

    At the time the cheapest Nissan Leaf you could buy cost thousands less. And remember, the Nissan claimed more range – up to 124 miles versus the 23kWh Ford’s paltry 100 miles on the largely useless ‘NEDC’-type test. In the US, the EPA put the 2014MY Ford’s range at a more realistic 76 miles, compared to 84 miles for the Nissan.

    Speaking of the US – over there the Leaf and Focus Electric were a similar price. By 2015 they both cost from around $29,000.

  • Tell me something interesting about it.

    The Focus Electric was built on the same production lines in the USA and Germany as the normal Focus. Ford actually invested some €16million to get its factory in Saarlouis, Germany, ready for the Focus Electric, giving it “the flexibility to react to market demand with increased production volumes”. Production volume it didn’t actually need.

  • What electric cars does Ford make now?

    Just one. It’s called the Mustang Mach-E and it’s really very good indeed. But Ford is very much in the minority nowadays for not also offering a smaller, entry-level EV in the mould of the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf, Peugeot e-208, VW ID.3 and so on. If it were to do an electric Focus or Fiesta right now, odds are it’d be right in the mix and reaping the rewards. But alas – a small Ford EV is happening, though not for a while yet. It’ll be built on the VW Group’s ‘MEB’ platform and should arrive in 2023. An all-electric F-150 pick-up and Transit van are in the works, too. By 2030, every Ford sold in Europe will be fully electric, we're told.

  • Why did it fail?

    Its price was undoubtedly a factor, at least in the UK, where the Focus Electric cost substantially more than any of its rivals. Take range out of the equation and £28,500 (at launch) for a Focus-sized EV is pretty good value in 2021 (the VW ID.3 costs from £28,670), but back in 2013/2014 you could bag a Nissan Leaf for around £16,000 (plus a montly rental for the battery). So that’s what everyone quite rightly did, even though the Focus was probably a nicer object.

    Not a more practical one, though, which was the Focus Electric’s other big problem. While the Leaf was designed as an electric car from the outset, the third-generation Focus was never meant to be an EV. So Ford’s engineers had a tough time making the e-motor and battery fit in spaces not designed to accommodate them. That’s why if you open the boot of a Focus Electric, you’ll see much of the cargo space is taken up with battery.

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  • What did we learn from it?

    That EVs need a bespoke platform, or at the very least a platform designed with both petrol/diesel and electric drivetrains in mind. It is possible to engineer your way around the problem – take the Mini Electric, for example. The Mini was never supposed to be an EV, so the fact the Electric has the same amount of boot and interior space as the petrol car is commendable. But Ford wasn’t able to pull off the same trick with the Focus Electric – the necessary tech might not have existed a decade ago. The resulting compromises just didn’t wash.

    Then there’s the price – the Focus Electric was too much money in the UK, and certainly wasn’t as aggressively marketed as the Leaf. It wasn't really marketed at all, in fact. So not only did it cost too much money, few people knew it existed in the first place. And you can't buy a car you've never seen, nor even heard of. We suspect its spiritual successor will do things differently...

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