Crash-Testing the Plug-In

By Lipman, Joanne | Newsweek, January 23, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Crash-Testing the Plug-In


Lipman, Joanne, Newsweek


Byline: Joanne Lipman

Ford CEO Alan Mulally on the pitfalls of his company's newest car.

For more than three years, President Obama has been singing the praises of electric cars. He's repeatedly called for 1 million plug-in and hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. He's ignored the skeptics who said it was impossible.

But maybe he'll listen to Alan Mulally.

"The infrastructure is just not there yet," the Ford chief executive officer told Newsweek recently--a surprisingly blunt assessment given that Ford unveiled its own plug-in, the Ford Focus Electric, just in advance of this month's Detroit Auto Show. "It's a very tough economic case ... These are very expensive vehicles because the batteries and electronics are very expensive."

The strikes against Obama's vehicular pet are many: the weight of the battery, the cost of the battery, the minimum three to four hours it takes to charge the battery, the cost of the car (plug-ins can cost twice as much as a com-parable gas-powered model), the extremely limited range (80 to 100 miles). Plus, of course, the little matter of a federal safety investigation into batteries that burst into flames during a crash test for General Motors' plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt. Even before the investigation, plug-in sales were disappointing, with the Volt falling short of the 10,000 it expected to sell.

Mulally is careful not to directly contradict Obama's goal of 1 million ("the customers are going to decide that"). But when you spend time with him, it's hard not to think that Obama is looking a lot like the last guy to buy an eight-track tape player, championing exactly the wrong technology at the wrong time.

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