In my last post, I talked about the need for electric cars that symbolise innovation, the cutting edge, etc. etc. Electric cars that car fanciers can relate to.  At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is the need for cars that are practical for families without boy racers (or indeed girl racers in). As a strikingly normal, practical car for the everyman the Ford Focus Electric has a chance of being that car, the spiritual successor to the Model T.

The Ford Focus Electric

The Ford Focus Electric seems to be somewhere in between: it’s still a presentable car but it’s takes a big step towards that market of electric cars for ordinary people. Ford has always been the make favoured by the practical driver rather than the flashy: my Dad, for instance, drives serious Ford estate cars with lots of boot space for family holidays. Ford’s place in history was secured, of course, by its provision of a car for the masses, the Model T, in 1908.

It’s difficult to see what the uptake will be at this stage: there’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem with electric cars that the infrastructure will only be built if there is demand for it (or expected demand), while the demand for the cars will only survive if there are places to charge them. The European Commission have recently outlined plans to get petrol cars out of city streets by 2050, in part with governments taking the lead in providing infrastructure . For the market to rise to this challenge, however, it needs big symbols that electric cars are on the way. Ford’s decision to step into that market may send a clear signal that the big guns of car manufacturing are taking the electric car seriously. As I’ve argued previously, rising oil prices from middle-east conflict and unrest may also prove a boost to such technologies.

The Chrysler GEM Peapod. Plays on its uniqueness rather than its normality

I am also pleased to see they’ve stuck with the design of their existing ordinary, nice-looking cars. With the greatest respect to some of the other pioneers in this field, lots of electric cars are frankly wierd-looking in a way that it’s difficult to get over. A blog on treehugger.com Ford’s move to normality this as a bold strategy, moving away from the model of selling eco-friendly cars that make a statement about their own uniqueness. Meanwhile a CNN blog has criticised Ford for “coming to the eco-party late”, near a year behind its rivals, but perhaps this reflects a more mature product: according to their PR, the Ford Focus Electric is also “designed to offer sufficient range to cover the majority of daily driving habits”, in this case about 100 miles. It is also good to see they’re aware of and seeking to tackle the problem.

Ford have already dabbled in hybrid cars, such as the upcoming C-MAX Energi. (I hope am not the only person who finds the use of an “i” in the brand name “Energi” slightly tiresome.) I find hybrid cars an interesting and slightly odd market because it is so dominated by the Toyota Prius, which somehow managed to tie itself entirely to the concept of hybrid cars in the public mindset much as “hoover” became synonymous with vacuum cleaner. (The example I always think of with this is the episode of The West Wing where Josh Lyman, the White House’s Deputy Chief of Staff, is photographed crashing an SUV into a Prius, a fantastic symbol of arrogant anti-environmentalism that they then have to manage the fallout from.)

As far as I know there isn’t a fully electric car that has that kind of dominance yet. Or maybe there is among car fanciers and it just hasn’t filtered down to sane people grownups me yet. Will Ford be able to roll out the definitive, yet reassuringly normal electric car, the model T for our generation? Time will tell. Good luck to them, say I.

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