As we continue to wince at the price of a gallon of gas (though it is starting to drop), alternative fuels start getting more attention.
The newest example of a gasoline-free car is the new Ford Focus Electric. It looks a lot like the regular Focus compact that’s been on sale for a couple of years, but with a few subtle distinctions. The grill is different, with an almost Aston Martin look, and there’s a circular door on the left front fender which conceals the charging receptacle.
That’s where you connect a standardized plug that all modern charging stations are using, or the portable charging cord, which plugs into any household outlet and will charge the car on 120v power. Unfortunately, doing it that way takes up to 20 hours (for a fully discharged battery). If you never run the battery down more than halfway, and park your car overnight like most people, that would actually work fine.
But for real travel ease, higher-voltage (240v) charging is the way to go. When one of those is connected, the Focus Electric’s battery pack can be fully charged from empty in as little as four hours, according to Ford.
If you’re dedicated to an electric vehicle for the long-term, you can have a 240v charging system installed at your home for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. There are sometimes incentives from utility companies to do this, which can knock the price down.
Or you can rely on the growing infrastructure of public charging stations. Many are operated by the ChargePoint Network, including one at the Vons shopping center onPass AvenueinBurbank. You have to sign up in advance and put a pre-paid balance on a ChargePoint card, and once you do that you’re good to go. Pull into the specially reserved parking spot, tap your card against the display panel, and plug the connector in. You’re now juicing up your car.
The rates vary, but in a brief survey of the stations aroundSouthern Californiaon the ChargePoint Network, most were priced at $2.00 per hour of use. Some are actually free, subsidized by whomever owns the parking facility where the charging port is installed.
OK, so we can fill up an electric car fairly easily (though not everywhere … yet), but what’s it like to live with? Well, I had the Focus Electric at my disposal for a week, and the car works very well, not unlike other electrics like the Nissan Leaf and Honda Fit EV. Essentially, it operates just like any other modern car.
Range is officially listed by the EPA at 76 miles. But I saw the car’s computer estimate as much as 82 miles coming off a full charge, or about 60 miles once you pop on the air conditioner and start tearing down the freeway at 65 mph+. Electric cars are most efficient running at lower speeds and without any climate control in use.
I can see people now, freaking out a bit in their minds. “SIXTY MILES??? You’ve got to be kidding!” Yes, we’re used to gasoline powered cars that can go 300 miles on a tank of gas and be refueled in a matter of minutes. But think about it. How many miles do you actually drive in a day?
For most people living in the urban world of theLos Angelesbasin, 60 to 70 miles is plenty of range. If you have a really long commute or drive all day for your job, that’s different. But for a regular commute and side trips, the range of an electric car like the Focus would work perfectly well.
The list price for the Ford Focus Electric is about $40,000, but federal and state incentives effectively knock that price down to about $30,000. Recharging at home is about ten cents per kilowatt on average inCalifornia, so charging up the Focus’ 23 kilowatt-hour battery would run you about $2.30. Or, about the price of a half a gallon of gas.
Oh, and electric cars don’t really need any maintenance, save for replacing the tires about every 50,000 miles. The battery is warranted for 100,000. If you really do the math, especially at today’s gas prices, electric cars can actually be a money saver in the long run.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave