Faster Charging a Major Advantage for Ford EV

Focus_EV_solar_JW

Ford's biggest selling point for its 2012 Focus Electric ($39,600) is that it charges twice as fast as other electric vehicles when using a Level 2 240-volt supply. Having tested a Focus Electric for a couple of days, I can confirm that the claim is both true and a compelling advantage indeed.

In the simplest terms, a depleted Focus battery can be fully recharged in about four hours compared with about eight hours for a Nissan Leaf. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which I recently reviewed, uses a smaller battery and takes closer to seven hours. But it's not just about full charges; it's about how many miles you can drive in a given day, and some other less obvious advantages.

For the record, the Leaf and i-MiEV offer optional ports for DC quick charging, known as Level 3, which the Focus doesn't support. (Ford says it's waiting for a standardized connector.) But Level 2 is what matters most because Level 3 charging would be cost prohibitive for the home, and no car that relies solely on battery power is viable if all you have is 120-volt household power, known as Level 1.

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How does the Focus Electric charge faster than its competitors? It's pretty simple, really: Its onboard charger has a capacity of 6.6 kilowatts. All the other EVs, and the Chevrolet Volt, are limited to 3.3 kW.

To define terms, a "charger" isn't what you probably think. The thing with a cord you install on a wall or find on a post in a public setting isn't the charger; it's the electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE. Nissan calls it a "dock." Technically, the charger is aboard each vehicle. It converts AC power to DC and manages the battery pack's charging process.

Before I get into the reasons behind all of this, here are some of the less obvious advantages I observed in two days with the Focus Electric:

  • Faster cabin conditioning: When I remotely preheated the Focus Electric, it drew more than 5 kW from the EVSE, meaning it was warming the cabin more quickly. (Conditioning the cabin before you unplug and drive preserves range.) We know that our Leaf's cabin heater can use 4.5 kW or more when driving, yet we've witnessed that it's limited by its own 3.3-kW charging rate when plugged in.
  • More miles per day: This is the simplest calculation of all. If you're adding twice the range of another EV over the same charging period, you can get more miles out of your car in a day's time. Sometimes I'll come home with our Leaf and then need to take another car out for the evening while the Leaf recharges. With the Focus, a few hours of charging were enough to give me the range I needed to take it out again.
  • Charging at a higher rate while you're shopping makes more sense: Walgreens is one of the most aggressive adopters of Level 2 charging, but we question if plugging in a Leaf for a 10-minute stop is worth the effort, even if it's free. But a Focus might be a different story.
  • Fewer dollars per mile: Most charging happens overnight when electricity costs less, but for the sake of argument, faster charging means you're better able to exploit off-peak rates when they're available. A Focus could finish charging while another EV might linger into the higher-rate period.
  • More miles per dollar (or $2): A big reason to buy an EV is for cheap home charging, but you may have the opportunity to charge publicly. Most public Level 2 charging remains free, but when you're billed, it's typically by time rather than the amount of electricity used (a legal issue that's still being sorted out). So if you add 20 to 30 miles of range for every hour of charging, you're getting more for your money than a Leaf owner, who adds 10 to 15 miles in the same period.

With all these advantages, why don't the other EV makers have 6.6-kW charging? They say it's an issue of size and cost, though Nissan has announced that the 2013 Leaf will support 6.6 kW. What's frustrating is that, for the most part, the onboard charger is the sole bottleneck.

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However, not all Level 2 EVSEs can charge at the higher rate. Level 2 charging is standardized and requires 240 volts, but to deliver 6.6 kW to the car, you need two things: an EVSE that can supply that much, and enough current going into it. (A notable mass-market exception is the Voltec-branded Level 2 EVSE Chevrolet sells as an option for the Volt.)

Our SPX Power Xpress EVSE has been flawless when charging a Leaf, Volt and i-MiEV, typically drawing about 3.4 kW. When I charged the Focus Electric, it drew 5.6 kW rather than the full 6.6 kW. Unfortunately I wasn't aware of a hidden setting on our EVSE intended for use with a 30-amp circuit, even though I had 40 amps. My mistake. This limited its output to a possible 5.7 kW versus 7.7 kW.

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Even at this level, the depleted Focus Electric battery charged in four hours and 10 minutes. With the correct setting, the car would have broken four hours easily, and this is what's frustrating about the charging rate among other EVs. It typically takes eight hours to charge our long-term Leaf with this setup.

Both our existing EVSE and the networked ChargePoint unit in our parking garage — which delivered more than 6 kW when we plugged it into the Focus — have been ready for this charging rate for more than a year. The same is true of the AeroVironment EVSE purveyed by Nissan and Mitsubishi as well as the Leviton device Ford has selected. The cars themselves have been the limiting factor, until the Focus Electric came along.

Comments 

Brian Keez

As a Nissan LEAF owner, I have a frustrating envy for the 6.6. However, I do have the DC fast charge port which truely maximizes the usability of the car. We just need more CHAdeMO chargers.

Ken Gagne

Did you forget the VOLT and how fast it is?
4HRS also but with no limit to how far you can drive for about the same price!

Bob

You say "All the other EVs are limited to 3.3 kW." The BMW ActiveE supports 6.6 kW charging. The ActiveE also has a 32 kWh battery, compared to the Focus' 23 kWh capacity.

More states are changing their utility regulations to permit per-kWh pricing, and some EVSE networks support it. In other states, and with other EVSEs, the fee becomes basically an hourly parking rate, regardless how fast your car can drink the juice.

Lance

Has anybody with an electric only car ever been distracted when they got home and forgot to plug it in? That would be a bummer the next day when you get in to go to work.

These cars will become much more viable when they can be driven into or onto a charging plug or mat that charges automatically and without cords and wires to mess with. The intgerchangeable batteries that I've read about for an instant swapout seem promising but can't see that happening at home.

Dan

Has anybody with a gasoline only car ever been distracted when they got home and forgot to fill it up? That would be a bummer the next day when you get in to go to work.

Rockaby

The answer to both, I'm sure, is a resounding yes.

Lance

@Dan
Obviously you assumed I was putting electrics down and felt the need to be sarcastic. No, I was just pointing out that it would take a little more attentiveness on the part of the owner and actually wondered if anyone had done this.

Of course I've done this with a gas powered vehicle several times. In most cases I still have plenty to go a few miles to a gas station and may be just a couple of minutes late for work. A couple of times I felt that I was so low that I poured a gallon or two from my lawnmower gas can to tide me over. Just saying that you have to keep on top of things religiously with the electric beside just counting your miles so to speak.

Rockaby

Yes it is quite different.

Even with the Focus it's "go 75 miles, stop for 4 hours"

With any gas-powered engine, it's "Go for 300 miles, stop for 5 minutes"

shaun

I've had my Leaf for a year now and I don't think it would ever have made any difference if it had a 6.6Kw charger. I don't care if it's "done" at 2:30am or 5am,.. both are within my cheap rate. I can't see myself ever going outside my range relying on a level 2 at the far end. What happens if someone beats me to it and is plugged in for 4 hours before i can even start? IMO the only way to go for public chargers is Level 3. Until then, I have my 35mile radius and that's 95% of my trips.

Mark

Joe,

You may have done this already as you did with the Leaf, but I was wondering have you had the opportunity to find out the real world range driving normally, using a/c, etc until the battery has run out on the Focus?

Thanks.

Matthew

What are your options if you do run out of energy while on the road? You can't just fill up a gas can to get you to the nearest gas station. Is towing your only option?

When I had the wiring done for my Leaf, I had them install #4 wire because the Tesla chargers can pull 15+KW at 240VAC. That would charge the Leaf to 80% in about an hour and a half. Not sure how good it is for the battery - the Tesla of course has many more cells so the current is much more spread out.

Noel

I own an older generation Think City EV. You don't run out of electricity and get stranded. I don't understand why people say that. I don't get stranded with my gasoline car either. Think about this.. There are more publicly accessible electrical outlets than gas stations. Businesses don't care if you use their outlet in a pinch. It's only 15ยข AN HOUR at 110V. I've had to use a McDonalds or 7-Eleven outlet twice in 2 years. All the Walgreen's in my area have chargers now, but I've never had to use one.

Bob Wallace

" no car that relies solely on battery power is viable if all you have is 120-volt household power, known as Level 1"

Really?

If the Ford will charge 25 miles per hour on a 240v outlet then it should charge 12.5 miles per hous on a 120v outlet.

Given that most cars get parked at home for at least 10 hours then that's a full battery plus some, is it not?

For someone who has a normal 20, 30 mile day it's a piece of cake. No 240v outlet needed.

Ron Voss

I have a 41-mile round-trip commute and have been doing fine with 120v into my Focus EV. However, I'm getting the 240v supply for the added flexibility (occasional late night outing), but mainly because of the $700 installation rebate available in the CA Bay Area. :-)

geo

volt charges in 4 hours cos it doesn't use its full 16..5kWh capacity
it only uses 10kWh

but it uses 13.2kWh
4 x 15 x 220 = 13200 watts

Sam

A four hour charge time is a huge advantage. Who knows, maybe in the future they will make EV's that will be able to charge themselves through a grid system or something like that.

Would upgrading Volt's charger to 6.6kW or 10kW make sense? I did this for my Leaf and now recharge at home 0-80% in about 100 minutes, greatly increasing usability of the car, but I'm not so sure for Volt owners (which I'm not). Anyone?

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