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Market ranging wider for electric cars

Aside from the undeniable success of the Toyota Prius, consumers have been lukewarm about hybrids, more advanced plug-in hybrids and especially fully electric cars. But the rocky road to the electrification of the automobile could become smoother with improving technology and further government assistance.

Put aside the travails of the boutique electric car brands, Tesla and Fisker, and the outlook for mainstream electrified vehicles — notably plug-in hybrids — appears to be brightening.

Sales of Chevrolet’s Volt, a plug-in, extended-range electric car with a gasoline-fueled generator, have gained significantly, albeit with heavy incentive spending by GM. Toyota has added a plug-in version of the Prius, and Honda’s new Accord has a plug-in variant. Meantime, sales of the pure electric Nissan Leaf are below projections.

Making up for lost ground, Ford is rolling out possibly the most sophisticated new set of electrified vehicles on the market. The lineup is headed by the pure electric Focus, which claims a 100-mile range between charges and a recharging time at 240 volts of four hours, or half that of the Nissan Leaf.

For consumers concerned about range from a pure electric vehicle, Ford’s C-Max Energi adds a large plug-in battery pack to the regular C-Max hybrid design. This gives the C-Max a battery-only range of about 20 miles, which Ford argues is good enough to get many commuters to work and hopefully a convenient recharging station.

If you keep driving the Energi using a full tank of gas, Ford claims a total range of 620 miles, which is 80 miles more than the plug-in Prius V. The Energi’s battery-only range is also more than that of the plug-in Prius V, but less than the Volt, which can go up to 40 miles in favorable conditions.

However, the Energi offers five seats to the Volt’s four. In showrooms for a couple of months, the $30,690 C-Max hybrid has sold well, but the Energi model looks like an even better proposition for consumers because a federal tax credit takes care of the incremental cost. For buyers looking for a conventional four-door midsize sedan rather than the C-Max’s hatchback configuration, Ford offers similar hybrid and plug-in technology in its new Fusion model.

Ford also brings a host of neat detail features to the electrified vehicle party. For instance, the C-Max Energi provides three driving modes: EV now, EV auto and EV later. This lets the driver use the stored electrical energy for the most appropriate segment of the trip, such as during city driving when regenerative braking can play a significant role in recharging the battery.



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