Why Ford Chose the C-Max As Its First Plug-In Hybrid

Ford announced at this week's Detroit Auto Show that the 2012 C-Max, a five-passenger minivan, will be the company's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. At first glance, it's a strange choice for the company's first plug-in. The seven-passenger C-Max has been available in Europe since 2003, but the name is virtually unknown in the United States—Ford didn't think the U.S. was ready for a compact minivan until recently. Now the vehicle is coming to the U.S. in three flavors—a seven-passenger combustion engine-powered version, a five-passenger hybrid, and a five-passenger plug-in hybrid.

Ford chose the C-Max as its first plug-in hybrid because it wants to make a statement about how the company moves forward with its electrification offerings, explains John Davis, chief engineer for the C-Max. "There's a blend between functional capabilities and fuel-efficiency," he says. "The C-Max brings forth multi-activity vehicle capability without going as large as other vehicles, so there is a still great base efficiency."

And as for the jump to the U.S.? Ford finally thinks that Americans want fuel efficiency in their larger vehicles. Much like the recently announced Prius V, "The C-Max is the sweet spot of a small car that's not too small, and that provides great flexibility," Davis says.

Toyota hasn't announced any plans for a plug-in version of the Prius V, but chances are high that it will come soon—the company already has plans to debut a plug-in third generation Prius in the near future. Once that happens, the five-seater vehicle will likely provide strong competition for the C-Max.

The C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid both feature impressive fuel economy. The hybrid can travel up to 47 mph in all-electric mode, and the Energi plug-in offers more than 500 miles of overall driving range with the battery and engine. That's more than any other plug-in or extended-range EV.

And while Ford has only formally announced the release of one all-electric vehicle—the Focus—an electric C-MAX isn't out of the question. "Clearly we want to see what the broader reaction is to the Focus Electric," Davis explains. "But you can expect a greater percentage of our entire vehicle fleet migrating to being able to offer both electric and plug-in as well as hybrids."

 

Read more coverage of the 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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