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Ford's Response to Prius and Volt

Stocks in this article: F TM GM

In terms of fuel economy, the Ford C-Max hybrid, at 47 miles per gallon, sits in-between the regular Prius at 50 mpg and the Prius station wagon at 42 mpg. Performance-wise, it was clear to me the Ford offered more power and is also perhaps slightly smoother in the electric-gasoline-electric transitions. All in all, the Ford is fully competitive performance-wise.

So what about the bottom-line Ford C-Max vs. Toyota Prius verdict? With a few caveats, primarily the one about the Prius station wagon offering slightly more space, I think the Ford C-Max has bested the Toyota Prius from the throne of "regular" non-plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids, however barely. The Toyota Prius family was already superb, and Ford has now delivered "Superb Plus."

The Next Step: Ford's Plug-In Cars

A few months ago, Ford started delivering the Focus Electric, which is a powerful all-electric Focus. At $40,000, it is not cheap, especially when a more capable Chevrolet Volt (from General Motors (GM)) similarly equipped can be had for perhaps as little as $2,000 more. As a result, the sales for the Ford Focus Electric have been dismal to date, with only a few hundred cars sold nation-wide this year.

Here is what Ford is doing to dramatically ramp up its presence in the plug-in electric market: In the next few months, Ford will be bringing to market versions of the C-Max and the Fusion with larger batteries (7.5 kWh instead of 1.4 kWh) and wall plugs, so that you can charge them anywhere you have access to electricity.

Both of these cars will be called "Energi" -- the C-Max Energi will be shipping by December this year, and the Fusion Energi approximately three months later. Obviously, these versions will cost a little more -- the C-Max Energi starts at $33,745 and although the price of the Fusion Energi has not been announced yet, we can imagine it will be about the same as the C-Max.

These two models will be competing with the Toyota Prius plug-in and the Chevrolet Volt -- at least superficially. On paper, they are all plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids, but that's where the comparison largely stops. Let me explain in detail.

The Toyota Prius plug-in has a relatively small battery and weak electric motor. This has at least two implications:

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