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October 28 2012

I Have Driven the Future, and its Electric

Ford Focus Electric

I am not a “gearhead” by any stretch of the imagination. I know how to check my tire pressure, do some very basic maintenance and where to put the gas in my car. That is about it.

But what happens when you take away the gas tank and leave me with plugging the car into a wall socket? Things get intriguing.

During my most recent visit to the TechnoBuffalo offices, I was lucky enough to discover we currently had a Ford Focus Electric on-hand for review purposes. After all the talk you’ve heard about completely electric cars you tend to think of them as either a myth, or extremely underpowered. How could I resist when Jon Rettinger offered me the keys to the vehicle when I made a run to Starbucks? You have to accept and try it out and see if it is some form of joke to drive.

It’s not. Not by a longshot.

After you hit the start button and you see the dash come to life, all you hear is the AC and the radio – SiriusXM mind you – come to life, but there are no “normal” car sounds: You don’t hear that familiar rumble of an internal combustion engine, and you almost have to wonder if the car has even turned on. Deciding to try my luck, I applied the brake, moved the shifter to reverse, and saw the in-dash display change to a back-up camera, but I still opted to look over my shoulder. Slowly easing my foot off the brake, I moved. The only additional sound added to the hum of the AC and Rob Zombie on the radio was that of the tires rolling backwards, but yet the engine still remained entirely silent.

And that, if I had any, would be my only complaint about driving an electric car. The lack of engine sounds is so foreign that you feel somewhat removed from the driving experience. Gone is the sound of the increasing RPMs foreshadowing your change of gears, and it is replaced by instant torque. As Rettinger explained it to me, think of your electric drill. The second you pull the trigger, you are at full torque, and that is how it is with this car. There is no need to build up to the power, so you simply have as much energy going to the tires as you give them by pushing down on the accelerator. The pickup from 0 to 30 was amazing, but I never really got to try going faster than that due to the area our offices are in.

There is some mysterious beast called “regenerative breaking” that helps charge the batteries back up as you drive… I have no clue how it works, I just know it’s a good thing when the little circle spins and it tells you that you are somehow putting energy back in. Yay!

Two of my biggest concerns with the concept of electric cars have been what it would do to your home electric bill and being able to charge when you’re away. To the former, Rettinger told me he his home electric bill went up a whopping $14 last month when he had the vehicle in his possession for the entire billing cycle, and that was with plugging it in every night. Essentially about the cost of three gallons of gas for an entire month’s worth of driving. And as for charging when away from home, well, that is still a bit tricky. More and more places around Southern California are adding charging stations, but you still aren’t going to be using your average fully electric car on a cross-country drive. Perhaps a Chevy Volt which can also use gas, but definitely not the Ford Focus Electric at this time. (Tesla Motors has just launched “Super Chargers” that will allow its electric cars to travel cross-country, but they are specific to their vehicles)

I’m still intrigued by hydrogen as a fuel source, but electric definitely has my attention more than ever before. There was nothing half-assed about this car. You had all of your usual car amenities down to Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, but you get the added bonus of pointing and laughing at those poor saps standing at gas stations fueling up their cars.

Consider me won over. And should electric charging ever become widespread, I would definitely be giving this a lot more thought as an option to a future car purchase.



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  • John Nichol

    I used to think that, eventually, all the manufacturers would agree on a universal plug so that you wouldn’t have to look for “your” type of charger (unless, of course, your car is made by Apple!).

    Now, I think the charging in future will be inductive – just park your car over the charger which is built into the road. It takes away the problem of parking your car in the street, people stealing your charging lead, or searching the multi-storey car park for that one spot with a charger.

    The British actor Robert Llewyllen, who plays Kryten in Red Dwarf, has a good series on YouTube called Fully Charged which started off looking at electric cars but has since diversified into the future of energy.