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New Ford C-Max to be sold only as hybrid and plug-in hybrid

Consumer Reports News: June 09, 2011 02:53 PM

At a press conference today, Ford announced its next-generation plug-in hybrid will be based on the upcoming C-Max small van. Further, the C-Max in the United States will seat five and will be sold with just two powertrain choices: a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.

The plug-in hybrid, dubbed C-Max Energi, is essentially the same model as the standard C-Max Hybrid, but with a much larger lithium-ion battery. The plug-in hybrid Energi will be based on the technology Ford has been testing for four years with prototype Ford Escapes converted to plug-in hybrids.

The company did not disclose the car's electric-only range, but said total range would be about 500 miles. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, the first plug-in hybrid on the market, the gas engine of the C-Max Energi will not be simply (and mostly) a generator, producing electricity for the electric motor to drive the car. That configuration is called a series hybrid. Instead, the Ford is a full parallel hybrid, more like the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid that can use gas, electric power, or both to drive the wheels, as needed. The difference should be mostly transparent to drivers.

The C-Max Hybrid will also use a lithium-ion battery, the first application in a Ford hybrid. The company says it will better the fuel economy of the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which Group Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Service Jim Farley noted is rated at 41 mpg on the highway. It's hard to see how a tall vehicle like the C-Max can do better in highway mileage than a lower sedan, but we look forward to testing Ford's claim. The company says the C-Max Hybrid will also operate in electric mode at higher speeds than the Fusion Hybrid, which already has a higher electric mode speed than other hybrids at more than 40 mph.

The vehicle will use a new version of MyFordTouch with a more interactive hybrid-drive display in the instrument cluster. The screen can show battery level in both the Hybrid and the Energi, and it has a gauge to let drivers know how close they are coming to having the engine start as they depress the accelerator. "Drivers really don't want the engine to start," says Farley.

The C-Max Energi will also use a new Web-based interface designed by Microsoft to ensure the vehicle charges only when electricity rates are lowest.

Ford is retooling its Michigan Assembly plant to build the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energy next year, and they will go on sale in 2012.

Conspicuously absent from the announcement was any mention of how much the vehicles will cost. That will be a key measure of their success as they face off on automalls across the country against the upcoming Toyota Prius V, which is about the same size.

Eric Evarts

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