Ford outlines vision for future of cars at CES

14:29, January 09, 2011      

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According to U. S. car manufacturer Ford, the future of the automobile industry may have been reflected in the new Ford Focus Electric, the company's first fuel-free, rechargeable passenger car.

While it is not the first electric vehicle to hit the U.S. consumer market, the company hopes the car's added communications and interactive features will make it not only a means of transport, but change the way people think about driving entirely.

"Ford is more than just a car company, we're also a technology company," said Alan Mulally, Ford's chief executive officer (CEO), at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Friday.

Although the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan is just days away, Ford executives chose instead to announce the vehicle's public debut at one of the largest and most influential consumer electronics conventions in the world.

"The new Focus just felt more at home at CES," said Derrick Kuzack, the company's chief technology officer and head of product development.

Drawing analogies from the successes of products in the consumer electronics business such as the evolution of mobile phones and gaming consoles, Mulally emphasized the company's vision of developing vehicles and platforms with customizable user interfaces that allowed drivers to access and quickly digest large quantities of information.

"A truly great product not only serves its intended purpose, it reinvents the purpose. It transforms something we do to something we experience," said Mulally.

The new Focus dashboard, which features two LCD screens and steering wheel commands, will include features that give drivers the choice of displaying information such as miles saved from regenerative braking.

However, rather than displaying this information in numerical terms, users will be able to select from different animations, such as blue butterflies, to represent mileage surplus.

"The more butterflies that appear on the screen, the more mileage surplus I have beyond my chargeable destination," explained Amy Garby, Ford's manager of EV electronics.

"Emotive graphics in gaming plays such a role in entertainment and education these days. This type of interface feels very natural to young people ... and we're sure it will appeal to younger buyers who might be interested in the Focus Electric," said Garby.

In a conscious effort to try to implement successes seen in the social media and gaming world, such as earning "points" or "badges, " the company's new mobile application, MyFord Mobile, will also include the opportunity to unlock driving achievements.

Awarded for driving in more efficient styles, drivers can share their unlocked achievements online with friends through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, MyFord Mobile will include applications that allow users to assess if the vehicle has enough power to make a particular journey and map out the closest charging station.

With the Ford Focus Electric, the company has also teamed up with tech giant Microsoft to develop a software that allows for " value charging," which allows for at-home charging during hours when utility rates are cheapest. As smart meters, which enable real-time gathering and analysis of utility usage data, are deployed by more U.S. utility firms, variable costing will become increasingly relevant.

The redesigned Ford Focus will have an at-home charge time of as little as three to four hours, placing it ahead of major competitors like the Nissan Leaf.

However, despite these added features and performance improvements, the Ford Focus Electric and the electric vehicle market as a whole still face many challenges in the United States.

Currently, there are only 1,800 public charging systems in the country, with the majority located in California. With vehicles that have a driving range of approximately 100 miles per charge, many analysts remain skeptical that there will be any significant increase in sales of electric vehicles in the short term.

Although Kuzack expects that electrified vehicles will account for 10 to 15 percent of Ford's volume by 2020, sales for electrified vehicles, including hybrids, have actually fallen in recent years.

According to the most recent sales data from the auto industry, hybrid car sales fell for the third consecutive year in 2010. In a year when overall automobile sales increased 11 percent, hybrid car sales actually fell six percent.

Despite these challenges, Ford executives emphasized their commitment to growing the electric vehicle market. "When it comes to empowering the electric vehicle customer, no one is more committed than Ford," said Mulally.

The new Ford Focus Electric is expected to hit the U.S. consumer market this November.

Source: Xinhua
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