Last fall, Andrew Frey, a local apartment developer with an interest in sustainable building, made the decision to look for a new car. The hybrid he’d been driving was not coming close to the mileage he anticipated and he had a new baby boy. So he set himself a goal.
“I was going to the cutting edge,” he said. “Nobody out there could say they had a more fuel efficient car than me.”
Then he did what many of us to do when we need to answer a pressing question. He Googled it.
What he found was the Ford Focus Electric, which requires absolutely no fuel, and averages the highest ever city mileage for a five-passenger electric car. While the Chevrolet Volt, the Toyota Prius plug-in and the Nissan Leaf have far outsold the Focus, introduced just last year, the Focus has improved electric technology, the new darling of efficiency, prompting critics to sing its praises and give it high ratings.
Frey tracked down the only local dealer authorized at the time to sell it, Metro Ford in Miami, and in October he became the proud first buyer at a South Florida dealership. Last month, after installing a charging station at his Coconut Grove house and impatiently waiting when Ford decided to pull his car from the line to ensure everything was working perfectly, Frey’s zippy black Focus arrived.
And so far, so good. With a range of 76 miles per charge, he’s been able to go everywhere he needs to go by simply plugging in his car overnight. His electric bill rose, but only by 20 percent, he said. He forgot to plug in the car one night, but had enough charge on the car’s battery to take care of business the next day.
“You get comfortable with what your parameters are. And it’s not a bad thing,” he said. “It’s nice to be conscious of your energy consumption, i you care about things like that.”
Fourteen years ago Honda introduced the first mass-produced hybrid in the United States, followed a year later by the Toyota Prius, the first four-door sedan. In the years that followed, the demand for hybrids has been clear, with sales in the United States exceeding 2.5 million vehicles. But all-electric plug-ins are having a tougher go.
Over the years, the technology centered in Europe, with Fiat, Citroen, Volkswagen and even a Russian car company selling plug-in cars. The Netherlands is now developing a national grid of charging stations to bolster electric vehicle use.
But in the United States, progress has been slower. General Motors and Toyota made electric vehicles available as early as the mid 1990s, but for leasing only. In March 2008, Tesla launched its Roadster, but at a prohibitively expensive cost of $109,500. Still, nearly 2,500 of the cars sold and Tesla became an innovator in technology. At this year’s Detroit auto shows, it unveiled a model that can travel almost 300 miles on a fully charged battery.
It wasn’t until December 2010, that the United States saw more reasonably priced, highway capable vehicles when Nissan and General Motors launched their Leaf and Volt. Ford rolled out its first electric Focus in California in May.
While just over 50,000 of the vehicles sold in the United States last year, that is triple the number from the year before. And automakers say they are committed to the technology despite sluggish sales. General Motors announced plans at the January auto shows to begin producing an upscale version of the plug-in Volt in the form of the Cadillac ELR. Nissan, meanwhile is stripping down a version of the Leaf to offer a cheaper base model. In the next two years, BMW will begin selling its i3, followed by a Mercedes B-Class and models from Volkswagen and Audi.