This week, Ford unveiled its very first plug-in hybrid offering, and it's a minivan! The C-MAX Energi is a smaller, 5-seat minivan that can run off of a charge and switch to the conventional hybrid motor when necessary. (They're also releasing a non-plug-in C-MAX hybrid of the 5-seater, and a 7-seater C-MAX that will run on a traditional combustion engine with their "Ecoboost" technology, but is still smaller than minivans of the past and so will have relatively good gas mileage, though I can't find the number anywhere.)
Many will wonder, of course, why Ford is leading their plug-in charge (pun not intended, I swear) with a minivan. In Fast Company, Ariel Schwartz quoted John Davis, the chief engineer for the C-Max:
There's a blend between functional capabilities and fuel-efficiency. The C-Max brings forth multi-activity vehicle capability without going as large as other vehicles, so there is a still great base efficiency.
Personally, I think it's an awesome idea. The very occasional long-haul family road trip aside, minivans tend to be used for errands and short distance pickups and drop-offs. Taking the kids to school or practice. Picking up groceries. Going out to dinner. These short distance applications are perfect for plug-in hybrids. The C-MAX will run on the battery alone until it's depleted, as long as the speed is under 47 mph. I'd guess that the typical American minivan often stays below 47 mph, and the typical American minivan trip is probably short enough to run on the charge alone. And for the longer trips, Ford is estimating that the C-MAX will get 500 miles on a single tank of gasoline. So it'll be awesome for those Griswold-style family expeditions too.
Here's Sherif Marakby, the Director of Electrification at Ford (awesome job title!), introducing the C-MAX Energi.
Marakby also talks about how Ford is testing the all-electric waters with a 100 percent electric Ford Focus, which will be on the North American market in 2013. The EV Focus is boasting a short 3-4 hour charge time that is, according to the company, "half the charge time of the Nissan Leaf." Here's a peek at the all-electric Focus.
The all-electric Focus is a pretty exciting development, but I'm really thrilled to hear of the plug-in minivan. It's about time that these next generation electric vehicles get marketed to the mainstream. Mainstream Americans, after all, are the very folks who will benefit most from lower fuel costs and fewer tailpipe emissions.