Ford said Wednesday it will begin production of the 2012 Focus Electric, the first five-passenger electric car to average more than 100 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) on the fuel efficiency scale.
Ford has been shifting its vehicle lineup to a more fuel efficient one, and the new Focus Electric takes the lead on that initiative, but with a catch: a price tag of nearly $40,000, according to a November announcement.
It is a hard sell, said Ivan Drury, an analyst from Edmunds.com, in a phone interview Wednesday. Forty-thousand dollars can buy a really well-optioned SUV, or even some luxury cars.
Ford will begin rolling out Focus Electrics on the coasts -- in the New York/New Jersey area, and in California. Later in 2012, the company will expand availability to 15 other major-city markets in the U.S.
Fuel economy is the major selling point for Ford. Drury said Ford has built up its standing as the brand of fuel efficiency. The Focus Electric, he added, could fall under the umbrella of consumer trust with Ford and fuel-efficient vehicles.
The company said that one-third of its lineup will feature models that average 40 or more miles per gallon in 2012. The company cited an internal survey of American drivers in 36 cities across the United States this fall.
The Focus Electric is a shining example of the leading fuel economy Ford is offering for each new vehicle, said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Ford's global product development, in a statement.
Whether people want a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full battery-electric vehicle, we have a family of vehicles for them to consider, providing a range of options to best meet their needs and support their driving habits and lifestyles, said Kuzak.
But another attractive feature that might draw consumers is the Focus' quicker charge rate. The Focus Electric is the first vehicle to charge with 240-volt outlets, nearly cutting charging time in half from the 2012 Nissan Leaf, a major competitor on the electric-car market. The battery can be recharged in about three hours.
To note, the Mitsubishi i also averages more than 100 MPGe -- 112, according to the company. But that car rates as a four-seater, while the Focus Electric will seat five.
But consider the price range -- the Nissan Leaf starts around $35,000, while the Mitsubishi i starts around $29,000. The Chevrolet Volt, which costs around $2,000 more, has a gas engine and a greater range. Right now, the Ford Focus Electric gets about 85 to 100 miles.
Ford's potential success, Drury said, will come if the company realizes the relatively limited market for a steeply priced electric car.
They have to hit on the head how many people they plan on truly selling to, Drury said. How many consumers can they really touch with a product like this?
Click ahead for a look at the new Focus Electric.