Last Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford unveiled their newest contender in the alternative energy car battle- The Focus Electric.
At first glance, and at lingering glance, it's a very good looking car. With the grill of an Aston Martin and the taillights of the Starship Enterprise, the Focus Electric does catch the eye. The, er, gas cap area is ringed with a Tron-like blue light, and the fuselage sports a swift looking beltline.
Ford leads its pitch with a claim that the eFocus will get a better MPG equivalent than the Chevy Volt, which it will. But if you dig past all the deco neon, the Focus Electric doesn't seem to offer much. It is all electric, so it can't compete with the hybrid Volt for range. It can only travel 100 miles on a single charge. And that will take you a while, because its top speed is a glacial 84 miles an hour, which it somehow manages to wring from its emaciated 123 horsepower motor.
Perhaps Ford needs to swing its crosshairs to Japan, because what they really seem to be battling is the Nissan Leaf. Another all electric, the Leaf is also a five-door hatchback, only has a range of 73 miles, and sports 110 horsepower.
I'll pause so you can yawn.
But perhaps there's something the world's top automakers see that petrolheads like me don't. Could it be that boring little plugs like the eFocus and the Leaf mark a revolution?
Until someone reinvents the battery, the main shortcoming of all electrics will always be range. Here in America, we can't afford to have a car that can't drive across several states in the same day. And until we can build infrastructure for hydrogen, this means we'll buy cars that burn our ever dwindling supply of petroleum. It's part of our national identity.
When we're confronted with cars like the Focus Electric, however, we're forced to rethink that identity. Most days we don't cover 100 miles. Most days see less than half that. At the prospect of never paying for gas again, we might consider buying an EV. But what about the days we have to drive a bit further?
That's where Tokyo comes in. A company called Better Place has set up several battery stations around Tokyo to service the city's electric taxis. The car-wash-like stations simply switch dead batteries for charged ones.
Of course, such a system would create countless heart attacks for the American private sector, as everyone with a laptop has a PhD in battery life, but it would create something else, as well- demand. As with the diesel dilemma, companies can't build stations without customers, and customers can't buy cars without stations. But if, most of the time, customers can charge up at home, battery infrastructure may become feasible everywhere, which means, in theory, unlimited range.