The Good Oil: Ford made electric versions of the Ranger and Focus absolutely ages ago
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There’s so much angst over looming Clean Car fines and the lack of electric utes for hard-working, adventure-focused New Zealanders who absolutely need a high vehicle with a tray. Which is most of us, if you look at the sales stats.
It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that Ford had a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) version of the Ranger way back in 1998.
Ford developed a BEV Ranger for the US using technology from Th!nk Global, a Norwegian EV specialist company that it partnered with and eventually purchased outright in 1999. The compact pickup truck was designed to help Ford meet challenging California zero-emissions mandates announced in 1996 (Ford also launched the Th!nk City microcar in 1999).
It’s fair to say there was a lot promise with the Ranger BEV, but the idea was a bit ahead of the technology. Based on a Ranger 4x2 “regular cab”, the BEV used lead-acid batteries at launch but later switched to nickel-metal hydride. With 26kWh capacity, it only had about 130km of range and was pretty basic, with a simple AM/FM radio and choice of bucket or bench seats.
Nearly all the 1500 Ranger BEVs produced were leased to Government fleets, but in the face of some backpedalling by California on its EV requirements and challenging quality/technology issues (including considerable battery degradation after 40,000km), the Ranger BEV was quietly dropped in 2002.
Once the leases had ended, most of the cars were destroyed.
In the same year, Ford also gave up on its Th!nk City project, after only 1000 lease customers had been secured. It put the whole company up for sale in 2002 (it continued until bankruptcy in 2011).
Suffice to say, Ford is pretty interested in BEV cars and trucks again. The 2011 Focus Electric was its first mainstream BEV available to the public, while the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning are now spearheading a new generation of BEVs in the US.
It seems certain that electric power will be part of the next-generation Ranger. Ford has already announced that all its commercial vehicles in Europe will be zero-emissions capable by 2024. Ranger – the same Ranger we have in NZ - is currently the best-selling ute in Europe.
At the “Delivering Ford+” event in May, Ford confirmed that a new BEV platform with RWD/AWD capability would be used for a mid-sized pickup truck. The Kiwi-market Ranger is already sold in the US in that segment.
The Focus Electric
Ford was one of the earliest carmakers into the mainstream Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) scene. It had a rival for the Nissan Leaf on sale in 2011: the Focus Electric.
The Focus Electric was launched with a 23kWh battery, giving a modest range: the US EPA rated it at just 122km. Because it wasn’t a ground-up design like the Leaf, practicality was also somewhat compromised, with bootspace taken up by the BEV hardware.
Still, contemporary reviews rated it as being good to drive and it offered great connectivity for owners with the MyFord app, which let owners set charge times and pre-heat/cool the car. In 2017 it was uprated to a 33.5kWh battery, with an EPA range of 195km.
Still haven’t heard of it? That’s not surprising. Ford sold less than 8000 Focus Electric models in the US from 2011-18, despite a price roughly equivalent to the Nissan Leaf. Not terrible, but not game-changing either. And then it was gone.
Focus Electric made even less of an impact in Europe, despite Ford investing millions to adapt its Saarlouis factory in Germany to build it in view of a bright future. One of the big issues there was capital cost: the Electric was up to twice the price of the petrol Focus. In its last full build year in Germany (2016), just 61 examples were sold.
At least one Focus Electric made it to NZ: Auckland-based Corys Electrical replaced a Focus diesel with the plug-in model in 2018.
Things are very different now in the world of Ford BEVs, or course: the Mustang Mach-E is now outselling the standard petrol-powered Mustang coupe in the US.